When Jill and Tony returned from their Christmas holiday, their world came crumbling down.
Here, Jill Lewis, 66, tells the story in her own words.
￼My husband Tony and I gave our son Russell, 43, a hug before he waved us goodbye.
‘Have a great time!’ he said.
We were flying to England for three months to spend Christmas with family and couldn’t be more excited.
Tony, 69, and I had emigrated to Oz with Russell and our other son in 1985, hoping for a better future.
‘This is the beginning of the rest of our lives,’ I’d told Tony happily.
Our new life in sunny Down Under was incredible.
But sadly, as he grew up, Russell struggled. He became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and suffered a stroke when he was only 20.
I nursed him for a year and he seemed to get his life on track. Eventually, he met his partner, Sarah, and together they had our beautiful granddaughter, now aged six.
After three months in the UK, Tony and I returned home. Once we landed, I noticed my phone wasn’t working and I couldn’t seem to get any service.
Borrowing 40 cents from a stranger, I phoned my brother to come and pick us up. The first stop was our son’s house to say hello.
‘Welcome back,’ Russell smiled, as Sarah stood beside him.
Jet-lagged, we went home soon after. But as Tony and I dragged our suitcases through the door, we were horrified by what we saw.
Our house had been utterly ransacked. All our worldly possessions and documents were strewn everywhere. ‘Oh my God, what’s happened?’ I gasped. ‘Someone must’ve broken in!’
Calling the police, we asked them to come around.
‘We’ve been robbed,’ I cried down the phone.
Worried the thief might have gained access to our accounts, Tony and I also went to the bank so they could check for us.
The teller tapped on her computer for a few moments and then gave us a shocked look.
‘Do you want to sit down?’ she said gently. ‘I’m sorry but every bank account has been emptied.’
Every last cent of the $11,500 in our business account had been wiped clean. Plus, nearly $50,000 had been run up on our credit cards. ‘We’re broke,’ Tony said, devastated. We knew almost immediately who was behind the theft. It was heartbreaking to admit, but our son Russell was a criminal. He’d stolen from us in the past, but never on this scale.
We reported the fraudulent transaction to the police.
After investigating, it was found that, only hours after we’d left on our Christmas holiday, Russell and his girlfriend had embarked on a trail of deception.
Our own son had broken into our lovely home while we were still on the plane.
Forcing his way into Tony’s locked filing cabinet, Russell had found our hidden PIN numbers and drained our accounts of thousands of dollars over the next three months.
Russell and Sarah were arrested soon after. When detectives knocked on their door, they found televisions, a vacuum and a pram that belonged to us.They even bought new TVs with our stolen cash.
‘That was our retirement money,’ Tony explained to the police, shattered.
Every last cent of our hard-earned savings was gone, and we were back to square one. Tony was forced out of retirement, we had to sell our house and also care for our little granddaughter.
As the weeks and months crawled by, we waited to get our money back.
Our credit cards were suspended and we lived off our pension.
This year, at the District Court in Sydney, after five years, and an exhausting seven-week trial, our son Russell Lewis, 43, was convicted of multiple counts of fraud and firearm possession. He was sentenced to two years and three months in jail.
His partner, Sarah Flegg, 44, was convicted of aggravated break and enter and dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, and sent to prison for three years and eight months.
While our hearts broke over Russell’s cruel betrayal, Tony and I decided we would never give him the chance to do it again.
‘We should send him back to England!’ Tony said. ‘That’ll teach him a lesson.’
Even though Tony, Russell and I had called Australia home for over 30 years, none of us ever gained citizenship.
And now, after he serves his term in Long Bay Prison, Russell will be deported back to England. He may be our son, but we never want to see him again.
The betrayal, deception and cruelty was too much for us to ever forgive.
Now, we are living day-to-day, renting, and struggling to live off our pension and Tony’s part-time work.
All up, we’ve lost more than $350,000 in legal fees, rent, moving costs and dipping into our pension.
This year, the bank thankfully paid off the credit cards, waived the overdraft, paid our legal fees and gave us $3000 as a goodwill gesture. But sadly, we are still up to our necks in debt.
People are urged not to store their PINs or passwords with their account details. But we never thought our own flesh and blood would be capable of this. Tony and I are the full-time carers of our granddaughter, as unfortunately we were too old to legally adopt her.
Some days are good and some days are bad.We just want to retire in peace and enjoy healthy, happy lives. Greed really is the root of all evil.
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