Catrin Griffiths

Lights, camera, action! Award season is upon us again. Cue the glitz and glam of the Hollywood set donning their glad rags and preparing their acceptance speeches. I do like a good film. It’s both a distraction and a form of escape from everyday life. Sitting down to watch a film on a lazy afternoon is an opportunity to see somebody else’s story being told, be that a story of a Jedi warrior in a galaxy far, far away or something closer to home, such as Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of a pilot, horribly burned after an aeroplane accident, who could not remember his name and was known simply as “the English patient” due to his accent.

I too have a tale to tell this week. My story is not from a film, although you would be forgiven for thinking so. My story is that of the American patient.

Let’s introduce you to the hero of the tale – Roger Curry, an American, 76 year old who sadly suffers with dementia.

To begin at the beginning. Police were called to a car park in Hereford in order to assist an elderly gentleman with an American accent who was found lost and confused. He did not know who or where he was. He had no money and no possessions. He was repeatedly questioned about his identity and only once revealed that his name was that of Roger Curry. The gentleman was taken to a local hospital where tests determined that he was suffering with dementia and thus may have given the authorities the name of somebody else. He was subsequently moved to a nearby care home and after a few months, the manager of the home reported that her staff had fallen for the American patient, who was said to enjoy chocolate muffins and the occasional tipple of sherry.

After months of fruitless enquiries, an international appeal was launched to identify the American patient and consequently a woman provided the investigation team with a photograph of a man called Earl Roger Curry from a 1958 American high school yearbook. The man in the photograph resembled the American patient. After several months the investigation team traced Mr Curry to a house in Los Angeles where his former neighbour was able to confirm his identity.

But how did the American patient find himself in a car park in Hereford? He could not have boarded a flight from Los Angels to the U.K without any assistance. Where were his family? A BBC Panorama investigation unveiled that Mr Curry was in fact married and had two adult children. After a period of 8 months and in July 2016 Mr Curry was flown back to his homeland in America where he now resides happily ever after in a care home in Los Angeles. The end!

But that is not the end of the tale and one can question whether the American Patient has in fact found his happily ever after. Mr Curry’s future is being decided by the American courts and there are concerns regarding the quality of his care. But that’s not all. According to BBC Panorama’s investigations, the Los Angeles authorities allege that in November 2015 Mr Curry’s wife and son flew him from Los Angeles to England only for him to be abandoned at a Hereford bus station car park. The authorities allege that Mrs Curry and her son Kevin dumped Mr Curry oversees and that this is an example of a growing trend in America, known as “granny dumping” where elderly people are sometimes abandoned by their families at hospitals, due to the high cost of care in the USA.

I find this so called phenomenon difficult to comprehend. To think that someone would abandon their nearest and dearest half way across the word is incredulous and incredibly heart breaking. As a private client solicitor, Mr Curry’s tragic tale firmly puts the spotlight on the importance of ensuring that clients have made lasting powers of attorney documents, not only for their property and financial affairs, but also for their health and welfare, thereby appointing somebody who they completely trust to make decisions about issues such as where they live, or what future care they receive, if they no longer have the capacity to make those type of decisions.

A recent Court of Appeal decision has also highlighted the complexities of who should make best interest decisions for a patient who no longer has the mental capacity to decide where he should live. In the case of Re MM (a patient) Teresa Kirk -v- Devon County Council, the local authority applied to the Court of Protection for an order that MM, an elderly man, born in Madeira, but who had lived in England for many years should be returned to England from Portugal, where he had been removed by Ms Kirk. The lower Courts agreed that it would be in MM’s best interest for him to return to England to his familiar surroundings and an order was duly made for his return. Ms Kirk failed to comply with the Court’s order and the local authority applied for her committal. The Court found Ms Kirk guilty of contempt and sentenced her to six months’ imprisonment. Ms Kirk appealed to the Court of Appeal who quashed the committal order and directed Ms Kirk’s immediate release from prison. It was deemed by the Court of Appeal that it could do nothing further to affect MM’s situation and that furthermore it did not have the power to require Ms Kirk to comply with its orders.

To all intents and purposes Ms Kirk was able to thwart the court process. It was felt by the Court of Appeal that the continuation of the court proceedings would be futile in furthering MM’s best interests. Whilst reading the judgment, the court’s frustration is abundantly clear, but sadly there’s no escaping the fact that in all likelihood MM will now spend the rest of his life in a care home in a place he has never previously lived, with none of his friends around him, or even likely to visit him, save for the occasional visit from Ms Kirk. Is this what he would have wanted?

They say that there’s a moral to every story and I believe that it is important for us all to think ahead and to consider what would happen to us if we no longer had the capacity to decide on everyday issues. Lasting Powers of Attorney documents can be prepared well in advance of any potential loss of capacity. Instructions and preferences contained within the documents can record where you wish to leave, who you want to see and even what you want to eat and drink. So why don’t you direct your own future?

Catrin is part of our Private Client team, dealing in all matters of wills, probate and lasting powers of attorney. If you have any questions at all on these issues please email in the usual way.

Published 07/05/17