Portuguese grandmother Teresa Martins is no longer bound by the insidious ‘gagging order’ imposed by the Court of Protection in a case that saw her sent to jail for standing up for her 81-year-old brother (click here). But the reason is tinged with tragedy.
Manuel Martins, suffering from a combination of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, died earlier this month in the Portuguese care home his sister battled so hard for him to remain in.
“He hadn’t been well for a while”, she told us from her home in Saltdean, East Sussex, UK. “Someone told him I had been in prison and I think it affected him. He never really recovered”.
Even though he may not have been aware of the details of his sister’s fight, former hotel head waiter Manuel knew there were issues, as he was visited not only by social workers from Britain who wanted to remove him from his Tavira care home and see him installed in a home in Devon, but also by reporters from UK tabloid the Daily Mail.
It was the Mail that initially exposed what it called “the astonishing story that has come to represent all that is wrong with Britain’s shadowy Court of Protection”.
Not only was Teresa Kirk bullied to the point of incarceration to comply with orders that neither she nor her brother agreed with, once Manuel died she was forbidden from posting an obituary until the gagging order was finally removed.
Worse, she now faces an uphill battle to try and wrestle Manuel’s estate back from the court’s clutches.
As everyone supporting her has agreed, the case may never have centred on Manuel’s welfare at all.
Teresa’s former husband, Chris Kirk, who lives in Tavira near the care home that cared for Manuel, told us: “If he hadn’t had his own property, Devon County Council would never have brought the case.
“I started looking into these secret courts when Teresa began having problems, and you would not believe the number of retired people whose money is taken by county councils in England. We are talking of billions”, he said.
And this leads to Teresa’s new battle: how to fight for compensation – for those miserable weeks in prison for so-called contempt of court – and for the money she was waiting for to pay her brother’s care home fees.
“I paid the first two months”, she explained, “and then we agreed that the rest would come once the case was over”.
Colin Challenger, the barrister who secured Teresa’s early release from Bronzefield Prison (click here), told the Mail that “more than £100,000” was spent on legal fees by social services “battling to get Manuel back to Devon”, and under CoP rules, “this money will be paid from Manuel’s savings and small pension”.
“It is likely the rest will be seized from the former head waiter’s estate, if and when his £200,000 house in Sidmouth is sold”, the Mail added, quoting Challenger as saying he is “ashamed to have any connection with a court system able to act in this heartless, incompetent and unsympathetic way”.
But Challenger’s help has come pro-bono this far, and Teresa is well aware that he will not be able to continue this way for the fight for compensation.
“I am thinking of setting up a Go Fund Me page, but I really need someone to help me”, she told us.
“This has all been a real nightmare. I feel like the whole world has fallen apart, but I have a daughter here (in England) and grandchildren”, her voice trails off. “Otherwise, I would much rather be in Portugal”.
With her brother buried in a cemetery in Luz de Tavira, “facing west, looking at the sun”, Teresa Kirk draws comfort from the fact that she did her best for him.
“I have a clear conscience”, she told us. “But now I just can’t do this next step without some help”.
Anyone who would like to offer Teresa some help or advice can get in touch with the Resident and we will forward their messages.
Meantime, the Mail concluded the harrowing story with its own opinion of the “shadowy Court of Protection”:
“It is a family court with powers to make far-reaching rulings on almost every aspect of a citizen’s life (and now, it appears, death), along with their relatives, too.
“The judges presiding over it can compel people to undergo surgery, use contraception, have an abortion — and even decide whether a life-support system is switched off.
“Just as worryingly, the court can put someone in an old people’s home if the State deems it in their ‘best interests’. And they can remove money from the person’s bank account to pay for care and legal costs.
“In other words, the life of that person is under the control of the court — and woe betide the relative who breaks the rules imposed by it”.
Photo: In happier times, Teresa and Manuel at the Tavira Sol e Mar care home, where he lived from 2015