Leeds MP to highlight case of 91-year-old woman in call for change to marriage laws to protect people with dementia

Joan Blass, who got remarried at 91, despite having vascular dementia. Photo: justiceforjoan.com.
Joan Blass, who got remarried at 91, despite having vascular dementia. Photo: justiceforjoan.com.

A YORKSHIRE MP is campaigning for a change in the law to protect people from being pushed into marriage when they lack the capacity to consent.

Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton will today submit a private members’ bill to the House of Commons calling for enhanced protections for vulnerable adults, such as those with dementia.

Mr Hamilton will highlight the case of constituent Daphne Franks, who discovered after the death of her 91-year-old mother Joan Blass in 2016 that the year before she had married a man more than 20 years her junior, despite having advanced vascular dementia.

The marriage meant the will Mrs Blass had drawn up, naming her two children as beneficiaries, was void and she died intestate, meaning her new husband automatically inherited her assets.

Mrs Blass, a widowed former teacher and journalist, had lived in a house in Mrs Franks’ garden in Gledhow, Leeds.

Mrs Franks said the man, who she did not wish to name, had got chatting to her mother in 2011 as he walked past the garden gate and “moved in with her a month later”.

She said: “She could never say his name. She called him ‘laddo’ because she never knew his name.

“She thought he was some sort of carer. She kept saying, ‘Did you get him for me?’ We said, ‘No, Mum.’”

Mrs Franks, 62, said the family had been worried about whether the man might try to marry Mrs Blass but they took legal advice and were told that a person must have the requisite mental capacity to get married.

She said correspondence from registrars had since revealed that her mother had not been able to give her address or date of birth at the wedding ceremony but it still went ahead.

Mrs Franks said while she did not wish to blame the staff themselves, more training and checks needed to be put in place.

She said the family was not able to go to Mrs Blass’ funeral and she had been buried in a “totally unmarked” grave.

She said: “With the growth in dementia, unless there are more processes put in place. this will happen to many more people.”

The man has not been charged with any crime.

Mr Hamilton, a Labour MP, said: “This is a story that I could hardly believe was possible in modern Britain, but one which shows that our marriage laws are not fit for purpose.

“All the signs were that Joan Blass, who was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2011 was being exploited by the man who eventually became her husband in a secret marriage ceremony in 2015.

“However, there is no training or any provisions set out for registrars to identify whether a person has the mental capacity to enter into a marriage contract at the ceremony.

“I am hoping the government will look at this bill, look at the trauma Joan’s family have since gone through, and act before more families undoubtedly suffer too.”