Daphne Franks: the woman who lost her much-loved mother to a predatory marriage

ccording to Daphne Franks, her mother was 87 when she met Colman Folan. He passed by when Joan Blass was trimming her hedge, the two got talking and she invited him in. Even this was out of character for Blass, says Franks, who lived about 30 metres from her mother in Leeds. She would once have been a bit more cautious, but Blass had been widowed three years earlier and diagnosed with vascular dementia.

“I remember her saying at the time: ‘There are a few old ladies he visits,’” says Franks, 64. “That rang alarm bells. I wish I’d listened to them.”

Folan, who was 24 years younger than Blass, quickly became a constant presence. He was always around, his belongings scattered through Blass’s house, although Franks says Blass could never remember his name – she always called him “Laddo”. Sometimes, Franks says, her mother would ask her: “Who is he?” and: “Where did he come from?” Once, she asked: “Did you get him for me?”

“That’s the one that really broke my heart,” says Franks. “She thought he was some sort of care worker.” At this time, Blass was living in a house she and her late husband had built in Franks’ garden. They were a close family and had moved there in 2000 when Blass’s own house became too big to manage.

어떤면에서, Franks was as confused by Folan as her mother was. Shortly after the two met, Franks took her mother on holiday to Tenby in Pembrokeshire. Folan sent Blass a postcard to their hotel every day, covered in tiny writing. “She couldn’t read it, she didn’t know who it was from,” says Franks. “He’d write her poems. Was it charming? Or was it creepy? It was really hard to know.”

Franks, her husband, her brother and her son had endless conversations about what to do. When Folan was questioned or confronted, Franks says he behaved as if no one had spoken. She says he was evasive, rarely gave straight answers, and did what he wanted. (He would disappear with Blass on day trips; asked where they had been, he would reply only: “Out and about.”) “He was unlike anyone I’d ever met,” says Franks. “We could have told him to leave, but he’d have come straight back and my mum would have let him. My dad had died – they’d been married for about 60 years – and Folan was paying her a lot of attention.”

All appeals for guidance drew a blank. Franks consulted their GP, who advised her to inform social services. A social worker visited, but found nothing untoward – Blass was clean, well fed and didn’t seem distressed. Within not much more than a year of meeting Blass, Folan had sold his house and moved in with her. The doors between mother and daughter had always been open, but Blass’s house was soon locked from the inside.

Each day, Franks would knock until Folan let her in – although he eventually stopped talking to Franks altogether. Once, as Franks was leaving, she heard her mother ask Folan: “Did I say what you wanted me to say?” This so alarmed Franks that she went to the police. The officer “took some notes, nodded a lot and said: ‘People will say you just don’t like him’”, says Franks. “I could tell he was thinking: ‘Greedy, grasping, middle-class family worried about the inheritance …’”

In March 2016, Blass died at 91. It was then that Folan revealed to the family’s GP that he and Blass had married the previous year at Leeds register office.

Marriage in England automatically revokes an existing will, so Folan inherited Blass’s entire estate, as well as control of the funeral. Blass was buried in an unmarked grave. Folan remained in the house and has remarried.

Franks says: “I was utterly traumatised. Just broken. I try to blot out the emotion, as it was all so unbearable. I’ve never set foot in my mum’s house since the day she died. My wedding dress was in there. My grandfather’s letters from the first world war. We sold our house and left, as it was too painful to stay. Every memory was tarnished.”

s she tried to make sense of how this could have happened, Franks realised other families must have had similar experiences. She has since been contacted by hundreds of people. “They often say: ‘I lived 60 마일 떨어진 곳, I should have been closer, it’s all my fault,’” she says. "잘, I lived 30 yards from my mum; I saw her every day. If I couldn’t stop it, no one could. This isn’t about one man, or ‘absent families’ – it’s about a system, a huge error in process.

“Changing a will would have been impossible for someone like my mum, as the bar for ‘mental capacity’ is high,” Franks continues. “I had power of attorney, because she couldn’t pay the milkman, she couldn’t recognise a pound coin. Yet she was able to marry and, in England – though not in Scotland, 예를 들면, and not in Holland, where my brother lives – marriage revokes a will.”

Under English law, unless a newly married person makes another will, their spouse automatically inherits all the personal property and belongings of the person who has died, the first £270,000 of the estate and half the remaining estate. “I looked around and thought: who’s doing something about this? No one! 오, it’ll have to be me!”

Franks’ main legal goal is to stop marriage revoking a will. “That would remove a lot of the incentive to commit predatory marriage," 그녀는 말한다. When Franks began campaigning in 2017, “predatory marriage” was a little-known term in the UK. It was in wider circulation in Canada, 그러나, where increasing awareness of the same problem has led provinces including British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario to make the legal changes Franks wants to see here. “In the UK, we have the term ‘forced marriage’, which is illegal, but that sounds like the person was there against their will,” says Franks. “Mum wasn’t at the register office against her will. She just wouldn’t have known where she was or what she was doing. ‘Predatory marriage’ makes much more sense.”

Her first step was to create a website, built by a friend of her son. Then she approached her MP, Fabian Hamilton. “I bounced into his surgery and said: ‘Hello, I want to change the law. Marriage revokes a will and it shouldn’t.’ He really listened and got it very quickly.” In November 2018, Hamilton presented a private member’s bill to address many of the problems Franks raised, which received its first reading. 하나, due to Brexit, it progressed no further.

“To make change, you need a powerful guiding coalition,” says Franks. “I had the political support, so then I contacted solicitors who had written about this issue and they joined me, so that was the legal side.”

She approached Dr Rachael Clawson, an assistant professor in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham and an expert on forced marriage. Clawson has been heavily involved in the campaign and on 6 October the team assembled by Franks will host an online summit through the university called Predatory Marriage: A Call to Action. 11 월, Franks will be the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Ann Craft Trust, a national safeguarding charity.

Every appearance, each new event, has brought more shell-shocked families to Franks’ inbox. She has become close friends with some. Their stories are now sickeningly familiar: vulnerable elderly people, often with dementia, who have married carers, church and care home “befrienders” or virtual strangers who are decades younger.

“I used to joke that there must be a guide on how to commit predatory marriage on the dark web," 그녀는 말한다. “Now I’m really beginning to think there is one. It always follows a pattern. They start with love bombing and then they become colder and colder and more dismissive to the family until they have got the person on their own. Then they take them off and marry them – and it’s ferociously easy to do.”

Under forced marriage legislation, with vascular dementia on her medical notes, Blass would probably have lacked the capacity to marry – but after someone has died you can annul their marriage only if it was incestuous or bigamous. The registrars at Leeds have confirmed that, at her ceremony, Blass was unable to remember her age or her house number. The deputy registrar interviewed her with Folan present and asked if she knew why she was present; she confirmed that she was getting married to Folan. Based on her “demeanour”, the registrar believed that Blass knew what she was doing and entered freely into the wedding.

하나, as Franks says, she was still a 91-year-old woman with dementia marrying a 67-year-old man with none of her family present. (The witnesses were Folan’s son and a woman from his pub quiz team.)

Folan did not respond to the Guardian’s requests for comment, but in a previous statement he said: “Mrs Blass wanted to marry me and I believed at the time, and still do, that she has capacity to make that decision for herself.”

In December 2016, after a four-day hearing at Leeds county court, a judge awarded control of the funeral to Folan, as legal spouse. Franks and her family complained to the police and a file was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider a forced marriage charge, but lawyers decided against a prosecution. A CPS spokesperson said at the time: “We reviewed this case carefully and concluded that there was not sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”

“I’m not blaming registrars,” says Franks. She says they are often “badly paid and poorly trained. There’s no training in forced marriage, dementia and safeguarding – which is why we’re also campaigning for really robust procedures to be put in place, with consequences if they aren’t followed.”

To this end, the campaign approached Dr James Warner, an old-age psychiatrist at Imperial College London, who has drawn up a set of simple questions to test capacity, 와 같은: “What is the name of the person you are marrying?” Franks says: “My mum would have totally stalled at that one. She only called him Laddo.”

Without change, Franks is convinced that predatory marriages will become more common, with rates of dementia on the rise.

Every time she speaks in public, she braces herself for spite on social media – and the accusation that this is all about money. “We are fortunate. My husband has always had a good job and I’ve always worked,” says Franks, who teaches communication skills at the University of Leeds’ medical school. “We can get by without that inheritance, although I would have liked to have given some to my son.

“My parents worked so hard – they worked themselves out of the slums – and I do feel I’ve let them down. In his older years, my dad would file all his financial affairs so carefully. He’d say: ‘Come and look at this, Daphne, for when I’m not around any more.’ Well, that filing cabinet was in Mum’s house and I never saw it again.”

Far harder, and more haunting, is something almost impossible to articulate. It is the intrusion, the indignity, watching this strange, unlikely intimacy in her mother’s final, most vulnerable years. “My mum was a lefty feminist,” says Franks. “She prided herself on her intellect and worked all her life. She was the first person in her family to go to university because she won a scholarship – the only one in the north-west – to Leeds. When she was there, she was a shining light – she edited the student paper, the Gryphon; she was captain of the hockey team.

“Afterwards, she worked in London as a journalist on the News Chronicle – my dad proposed in Trafalgar Square. They came back to Leeds, 기혼, had two children and she worked as a much-loved teacher until she retired. She was the first teacher in Leeds to wear a trouser suit in the 1960s – she had a pink one and an orange one.

“Colman Folan was very old-fashioned. He thought women should be in the home – he didn’t understand why I went to work. After their wedding, he took her to Blackpool – well, my mum always hated Blackpool!” She laughs, then shakes her head. “She’s buried in Otley – I don’t know why, as she had no connections there. Every time I go, more headstones have appeared around it and my mum’s is just this patch of grass. She always had a horror of burial. She wanted to be cremated. He never knew her, you see.

“Some of my relatives were not in favour of me doing all this," 그녀는 말한다. “They said it would just dig it all up for me – but I have never been able to put it to bed, so it doesn’t make any difference. If we bring about change, I think it will protect loads of people, but if I can protect just half a dozen families from going through this, it will be worth it. I’m absolutely determined to do it. Really, I can’t bear not to.”

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