CRIMINALS who target elderly and vulnerable people could soon be prosecuted under a new offence.

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is looking at the possibility of making it an offence, or statutory aggravator, to target victims due to their age or perceived vulnerability.

Crimes including bogus callers, doorstop theft and financial abuse by relatives, could all be covered under the change.

Speaking at the committee, Lesley Carcary, director of Action on Elder Abuse Scotland, said: “We want to send out a message that just because you’re stealing from your mum, doesn’t mean it’s not criminal.

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"We estimate that around 9 per cent of over-65s in Scotland have experienced some form of elder abuse, which may include physical, sexual, financial, psychological or neglect.

“We would say that this 9 per cent is very likely to be only the tip of the iceberg because from our experience many older people are very reluctant to speak, so we believe that the extent of elder abuse is actually much higher than that.”

She added: “We do feel a lot more needs to be done to criminalise this type of behaviour so that there is a real deterrent and so that children or other family members who are thinking of doing this will think twice.”

Discussions around what age would deem someone elderly are ongoing but Ms Carcary said she believes  older people are deliberately victimised and seen by some as an “easy target”.

It comes after the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed by Parliament, making it a statutory offence to use behaviour that is controlling, coercive and emotionally or psychologically abusive.

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The 2018 Act was not extended to cover the issue of elder abuse but the Committee has recognised that the provisions of the Bill might create the foundation to address the prosecution of elder abuse. A panel made up of representatives from Action on Elder Abuse Scotland, Age Scotland and the Care Inspectorate, agreed that changes in law are needed.

An Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland found that “there should be a new statutory aggravation based on age hostility.”

Adam Stachura, Head of Policy and Communications at Age Scotland, said the rising number of elderly makes the changes even more necessary.

He added: “Older people are often targeted by criminals because of their perceived vulnerability, especially if they are living alone, have a disability or health condition.

“We would be supportive of the introduction of an aggravator on the basis of age.”

Gordon Paterson, Chief Inspector (Adult Services) of the Care Inspectorate, suggested that changes could also apply to young people targeted due to their age and vulnerability, such as kids who have been through the care system.”

Representations were also heard from Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Law Society of Scotland.

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Anthony McGeehan, head of policy at Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said they received between 400 and 550 reports of elder abuse from April 2016 to December 2018, with the majority including violence, sexual offences, abusive behaviour and dishonesty.

However, Chief Superintendent John McKenzie of head of Safer Communities, commented that he believes that many victims fail to report crimes.

The Committee will now decide what further action, if any, it may wish to take on the issue of the prosecution of elder abuse.