Leeds MP tackles Boris Johnson about "predatory marriages" to safeguard people with dementia

A Yorkshire MP tackled the Prime Minister yesterday about stopping some of society’s most vulnerable people being lured into “predatory marriages”.

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 7:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 7:04 pm
Fabian Hamilton, the Labour MP for Leeds North East, has long campaigned for better regulation of marriages for people with dementia.

Fabian Hamilton, the Labour MP for Leeds North East, has long campaigned for better regulation of marriages for people with dementia.

One of his constituents, Daphne Franks, has claimed that her mother, Joan Blass, was a victim of a predatory marriage.

Mrs Blass was befriended by a neighbour, Colman Folan, after she was diagnosed with dementia.

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After Mrs Blass’s death aged 91, Ms Franks found the pair had married and all her mother’s property and possessions, including some £35,000 in savings, had gone to Mr Folan as the marriage superseded her previous will.

She maintains that her mother was not capable of consenting to the marriage as her dementia was too advanced.

Yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Hamilton told Boris Johnson: “I had a constituent with late stage dementia, who was married by a man who befriended her.

“Upon her death, the man subsequently inherited the whole of her estate because under the law as it stands, their marriage had revoked her previous will.

“Hundreds of people since then have contacted me, citing similar experiences, but three Registrar Generals have refused to meet me to discuss it, so will the Prime Minister now act to bring this cruel exploitation to an end?”

In response, the Prime Minister told Mr Hamilton that he would arrange a meeting between him and the relevant Justice Minister to discuss the issue.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Hamilton said: “There are some unscrupulous individuals who prey upon the vulnerable elderly, especially those who’ve got dementia, to befriend them and marry them, and then inherit all their worldly possessions and assets.

“It’s not very commonplace, I’m glad to say that, but it’s so distressing.

“I’m pretty appalled, frankly, the distress it’s caused has been huge.

“The worst thing about this case was that Joan had asked that when she died she was cremated.

“He insisted instead that she be buried in the cemetery in Harrogate against the wishes of the children.”

Mr Folan has previously denied that he married Mrs Blass against her will.

Mr Hamilton has now called for a change to the way marriages work, to safeguard other potential victims. He wants an overhaul in legislation to ensure that marriage no longer revokes a previous will – in any circumstances.

And he is asking for registrars, who conduct civil marriage ceremonies, to undertake training to ensure that all parties are aware of the legally binding contract they are entering into.

He has also asked that marriage notices be published online so family members can discover more easily if a marriage is taking place.

Currently, a notice of a marriage is given by the couple to the registrar some weeks before the ceremony, where it is displayed in the public areas of a registry

office, or if a couple are marrying in church, then banns are read.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:“Whether new or stricter rules are needed to protect against predatory marriage is being examined as part of a wide-ranging Law Commission review. We will consider their final proposals carefully.”