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The more instances of poor or poorly conducted marriage procedures that we can collect, the better our case for change will be. The kind of thing that we’re looking for is instances of couples not having separate interviews at the notification of marriage, or concerns about one party who may have lacked mental capacity to marry, or anything else that may not have occurred to us but may have happened to you.

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Joan Blass - secret marriage to a very old lady with severe dementia

Submitted by Daphne Franks

My mother, Joan Blass (d.o.b. 20/4/24) died on March 26th, 2016. At the time of her death, my mother was 91 with severe vascular dementia – a medical diagnosis dating back to 2011 - and terminal cancer.

My mother had a male friend, whom I shall call Ranlyn Lucas, and we had been extremely worried about him for several years as my mother was such a vulnerable adult and he had moved into her house only a month after meeting her in the garden as he walked past the gate, in December 2011. He is much younger than she was (68 at the time of her death) and extremely secretive. We had contacted my mother’s GP on many occasions, the Police, the Social Services and also had taken legal advice and had been told that she could not make another Will or marry again because of her severe dementia.

My parents’ house was built in the garden of our house, which has been our family’s home since 1959. My husband, son and myself were extremely close to both my parents. My father died in 2008 and my mother continued to live in the house. We visited each other several times a day.

Ranlyn Lucas was initially rather over-friendly to us but then became very controlling and conducted a “hate campaign” against me with all my mother’s relatives (perhaps because I was very close to my mother) but thankfully it didn’t really succeed. He stopped speaking to me completely in October 2014, although I continued to visit my mother every night with my husband Stephen. Ranlyn just sat and either ignored me, eyes fixed on the television, which was always on, or stared at the ceiling, or glowered at me. It was extremely intimidating and horrifically distressing.

As I mentioned, my mother died peacefully at home on March 26th 2016, which was Easter Saturday. My mother’s oldest friend Amy was visiting for the day with her daughter-in-law Lesley so we were all over at Mum’s house at the time. On that day my mother could not speak at all but kept waving to me across the room. I commented to Lesley that I thought she was saying goodbye; and so it proved.

On March 29th (as soon as the GP opened again after Easter) Ranlyn Lucas turned up at the GP’s, with a marriage certificate. He had married my mother secretly on October 26th 2015 and had not told anyone – not the family, not her friends, not the GP, not the council, not the bank. My mother had never had any knowledge that they were married. We have had the wedding ring that she was wearing dated and were told it was made in 1947, so that was the ring given to her by my father Ron Blass, not a ring from Ranlyn.

It is impossible to describe the level of shock and distress that we felt on learning of the marriage. All we had known was that Ranlyn Lucas and my mother had disappeared for a few days at the end of October 2015 and he did not tell us anything about it, so I was concerned for my mother’s safety at the time. We have since found out that Ranlyn took my mother to Blackpool for a few days and on the way home called in to see my mother’s brother and his wife in Marple, near Manchester. Ranlyn Lucas did not mention the marriage to them and by then my mother had forgotten that it had ever taken place.

Mum never told anyone about it, because she did not remember that she was married. Ranlyn Lucas never told anyone about it, because, I suspect, he had found out that there is a gap in the Law so it is never possible to annul a marriage after one party has died unless it was bigamous or incestuous. If he had told us they were married when my mother was alive, we could have sought to have the marriage annulled.

Our son Oliver rang the Register Office to make a complaint as we were absolutely certain that my mother did not have the mental capacity to marry, and her medical records back this up.

In response to my son’s complaint I received a phone call from someone from the register office. Her tone was totally dismissive and suggested that I was making a fuss about nothing. “She was fine on the day, totally compos mentis,” was a phrase that really stuck in my mind as I knew it was very far from the truth. Upon what authority, and with what knowledge, could she use the phrase “totally compos mentis”? We have since learned that registrars do not have training in assessing mental capacity or dementia.

The two witnesses to the marriage were Ranlyn Lucas’s son, whom I shall call Geoffrey, and a lady who was a member of the pub quiz team to which Ranlyn belonged: she did not know my mother well at all and I doubt if she had ever had a one-to-one conversation with her. So I asked the woman from the register office if the registrars had not thought that it was strange that a 68-year-old man was marrying a 91-year-old woman with none of her relatives present. “Ah well, we can’t judge,” she said in a very patronising manner, meaning “it’s not our job to judge”. As a matter of fact, in the General Register Office – A Guide for Authorised Persons, it states that “one party may do all the talking or be reluctant to let the other party be spoken to alone” (paragraph 3.5 of the official guidelines). Ranlyn Lucas always spoke for my mother, as indeed the Deputy Registrar mentions in her account of what happened “Mr Lucas started to intervene and he was reminded that Mrs Blass had to answer by herself”. My mother spoke very little generally at this time as she could never follow what was going on.

In the letter from the Deputy Registrar, of which we have a copy, she mentions that “the DSR asked me if I thought Mrs Blass was fully aware of why she was there and should we proceed with the ceremony.” However, they carried on.

We know that Ranlyn Lucas had shown the registrars a hospital letter with my mother’s terminal diagnosis. He had also described her as being deaf and forgetful, and said that her forgetfulness was caused by a stroke. In fact she was suffering from far more than forgetfulness – it was vascular dementia and we believe that Ranlyn had fooled the registrars with the terminal diagnosis and some kind of romantic nonsense about them loving each other and wanting to get married before she died.

My mother had made a Will in 2004 leaving everything to myself and my brother after my father’s death. However, this marriage superseded and annulled the Will – as a marriage always does - and this means that Ranlyn has inherited her entire estate and is still living next door to us in my mother’s house, which we find intolerable. I had Power of Attorney for Finance, because my mother was incapable of making the simplest financial decision (her GP had assessed this before I was able to register the Power of Attorney) and yet she was allowed to marry, which completely overturned her Will. I cannot state too strongly how devastated my mother would have been if she had known that the marriage would disinherit her children – she was an incredibly intelligent woman, a University graduate and teacher, and devoted to her family.

My brother and I have owned half my mother's house since my father died in 2008, but Ranlyn Lucas initially seemed to refuse to believe this in spite of having seen the proof. He did say in court under oath that he would leave the house after my mother's funeral, but he has not done so and nearly two years after our mother’s death, Ranlyn is still there, living about thirty yards away from us.

We have not been able to go into my mother’s house since the night she died, even though my brother and I owned half of it between us. All my mother’s possessions have been inherited by Ranlyn. In July 2017 our solicitor wrote to Ranlyn saying that we would be taking him to court to force a sale, and that we wanted to go in to inspect the condition of the house. He replied to this by offering to buy our half and saying that he wished to continue to live there. However, he has since missed two deadlines for the completion of the sale with no explanation and it looks as though we will have to take him to court to get him out.

The Police finally put a case for Forced Marriage to the Crown Prosecution Service under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2014. However, the Safeguarding Team at Elland Road appeared to us to be struggling throughout as it is such new law that they are not familiar with it, and they found Ranlyn Lucas very strange and difficult to deal with “He’s really odd, Daphne”.

The Police were originally not going to investigate at all ("it's a civil matter, not a criminal matter") but the Forced Marriage Unit in London insisted that they do so, and explained that forced marriage is a criminal offence, and that, if you lack mental capacity, you do not have to know that you are being forced into marriage in order for the marriage to be forced. Here is the quotation from the relevant page of the Forced Marriage Unit’s website, in the “Legislation on Forced Marriage” section:

"Marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they’re pressured to or not)"

We took legal advice from a firm of solicitors who specialise in contentious probate. Ranlyn Lucas wanted my mother buried but all my mother’s family and friends, plus my mother herself when alive, wanted a cremation: my mother hated anything to do with burial. We were told by the solicitors that we had an extremely strong case for getting control of my mother’s body for a funeral, and so we took Ranlyn Lucas to court to try to get control of the funeral.

We had assumed – on the advice and reassurance of our solicitor - that as soon as the judge understood that my mother had dementia such that she was unable to give informed consent to marriage, he would give the funeral to the family. My mother’s GP testified in court to my mother's level of dementia (we do have all the documents, witness statements etc). However, in a decision that shocked our solicitor, our barrister and all their legal colleagues, the judge decided that although it was “doubtful” that my mother had the mental capacity to consent to marry, he thought that Ranlyn genuinely cared for her, and did not have a financial or malicious motive, and Ranlyn was her legal husband, so gave the funeral to him. An appalling decision implying that the woman’s ability or willingness to give consent simply does not matter.

We have had to pay all the costs, which are over £200,000. We only let it go to court because our solicitors were so certain that we would win.

None of the family or friends was able to go to my mother's funeral: nobody could bear to, even if Ranlyn Lucas had shared his plans with us. We have since learned that she is buried in a graveyard in a nearby town with which she had no connection. I have visited the grave – there is no headstone and no flowers.

We have lost all our inheritance and all our savings too. Some of the £200,000 will be covered by the sale of my mother’s house and the rest has come from our savings and my brother’s savings.

My only brother who lives in Amsterdam, has given his quarter of the house to me as he finds it all too distressing to deal with and it has caused his family, as well as ours, untold stress. I must emphasise that this is not actually giving me any money – it’s all spoken for in court fees – just the ability to make decisions from now on without consulting him.

Although separate interviews before marriage are supposed to happen by Law, we have spoken to a number of couples who married over the past few years where this has not happened. Although the various letters from the Register Office etc give bland and patronising reassurances that my mother and Ranlyn were interviewed separately, we are certain that either they were not or that my mother was given help, or permitted to give inaccurate answers, as in the evasive “she eventually answered to my satisfaction” letter from the Deputy Registrar. At a hearing in London before the civil trial, I overheard Ranlyn say to his barrister that my mother kept falling asleep during the notification.

I saw my mother every day and the idea that she could answer all the questions is complete nonsense. Even soon after meeting Ranlyn, when he had moved into her house, she was repeatedly asking “What is his name?” “Where did he come from?” and “Where does he live?” and we have many witnesses to this. I know that capacity for marriage is time-specific and decision-specific but even on a particularly “good” day my mother could barely say her own name and date of birth and certainly never knew his. She had comprehensively failed the Mini Mental State test at the GP’s several years previously in 2011, and her dementia had worsened considerably since then.

I am convinced that fraudulent marriages such as my mother’s must be happening throughout the country and we wish to raise awareness and campaign for a change in the Law. I am also appalled by the Register Office’s flippant approach to our complaint.

I complained to the Local Government Ombudsman and received a phone call where any understanding or empathy was entirely lacking. She told me that it was not possible to investigate as no evidence is kept after marriage. “But my mother had dementia that was so bad that she did not have capacity to consent to marriage!” I said, becoming upset. “So you say.” she replied.

The registrars have no idea of the terrible and lasting effects that their behaviour has had on our family’s lives and finances. I should like them to acknowledge that a huge error was made, and to explain if any changes have been made to their procedures to prevent such an event happening in future: at the moment we have had nothing but bland reassurances and these are very insulting to both us and to my mother's memory. One reason they give for thinking my mother had mental capacity to marry was her “demeanour” on the day. She will have been happy and smiling, in a dreamlike state on a nice day out with friendly people. She would not have understood what was going on. Demeanour is no guide to mental capacity.

I think that the Register Office has simply covered it all up and given us those bland reassurances because they are frightened of the consequences of any investigation. I want to emphasise that I am not out to make them lose their jobs: Ranlyn is very forceful and it would have been very difficult for them to stand up to him. The registrars are not trained in assessing mental capacity: it is their procedures that need to be changed and we have a list of changes that would have prevented this.

The Crown Prosecution Service had the criminal case file for over twelve weeks before making a decision not to prosecute Ranlyn Lucas. Because register offices keep no evidence of what happened on the day, the fact that two of the three registrars who dealt with my mother thought she was fine to marry overrides all preceding medical evidence: the idea seems to be that my mother could have somehow made a miracle recovery on the day of the notification and again on the day of the wedding before lapsing back into her totally confused state. We don’t think that the Crown Prosecution Service understands how dementia can present, here – again they quote (both in the original decision and in the response to our appeal) that because my mother was smiling and happy she must have understood what was going on.

Assessment of mental capacity should not be made with assumptions (Mental Capacity Act, 2005) – just because someone is old and frail does not mean that they do not have mental capacity. But Ranlyn Lucas always dressed my mother well, with designer clothes and jewellery and perfume that she would never have worn. She also had a very sociable exterior - “Hello! How lovely to see you!” which did a good job of hiding her confusion unless you knew what to look for.

We have had three meetings with our MP, who was very helpful and has said he is horrified by the events. He has said that he will raise it in Parliament for us and now has a date for this, 21st November 2018.

We believe that there are several changes to registrars' procedures which could stop similar events happening in future and have discussed these with our MP.

We have a tremendous amount of supporting correspondence of course. I think that our case is very probably the tip of a huge iceberg. With the increase in dementia, there could be very many more similar cases both now and in the future.