Skip to comments.Woman wrongly kept in mental hospital for 70 years - for stealing two shillings
Posted on 09/28/2007 9:44:34 AM PDT by UKrepublican
Woman wrongly kept in mental hospital for 70 years - for stealing two shillings
The brothers of a woman locked up for 70 years after being wrongly accused of stealing 13 pence have spoken of their emotional reunion with the sister they thought was dead.
Jean Gambell, 85, was just 15 when she was sectioned indefinitely in 1937 over claims she stole the money - two shillings and six pence - while working as a cleaner in a doctor's surgery.
The money was eventually found - but by then she was lost to the system in a maze of different institutions.
Her family thought she had died years ago until one of her brothers, David Gambell, read a questionnaire sent by a care home which was addressed to his mother.
Thinking it was simply an advertising pamphlet, Mr Gambell was about to throw it away when he saw his sister's name written in tiny writing on the top corner of the page.
It suddenly became clear that the sister he thought was dead was still alive. He rang the care home and was told straight away that his sister was there.
"It was a pretty emotional moment," Mr Gambell said. "When I got off the phone I called the rest of my family and they were as stunned as I was.
"We had no idea that our sister who had been lost to the system before I was born was still alive."
Mr Gambell and his 66-year-old brother Alan, who both live in the Wirral in Cheshire, made arrangements to visit her. Although the pair had been on visits to see their sister when they were children, staff at Warwick Mews in Macclesfield warned them she was deaf and may not remember them.
David said: "We were very nervous. We had a bunch of flowers and wrote on a piece of card 'Hello Jean, we're your brothers'.
"They brought her in and she took one look at us and said: 'Hello Alan, hello David', and flung her arms around us. It was a special moment and one that will live with me forever."
Two weeks after their visit in July Miss Gamble suffered a stroke, thought to have been cause by the emotional stress of the reunion.
She is currently receiving treatment in a heart ward in a Macclesfield hospital and is making good progress.
The saga began in 1937 when she was accused of stealing the money from the doctor's surgery where she worked as a cleaner.
Allegations of theft led doctors to describe her as someone "of feeble mind" and ordered her to be detained indefinitely in Cranage Hall in Crewe.
After her original detention, she was moved to numerous care homes across the north-west of England, making it hard for the family to stay in touch.
And when the brothers lost their mother 25 years ago, the final link to their sister was lost.
David said: "Nowadays there are reviews and appeals, but back then a doctor could sign away a life with the stroke of a pen - it's a terrible waste.
"Jean even thanked us for the flowers and the presents we gave her. It's incredible, after all this time there was no hint of bitterness.
"After she suffered the stroke Alan blamed himself for causing it - but I think we would have felt worse if we had discovered our sister was still alive and had done nothing to try and see her again."
Alan's memories of his sister are from visiting times at care homes when he was a child.
"We were not even born in 1937 when Jean was put away but I do remember her being brought to us by two wardens when we were young," he said.
"Soon though, we lost contact. We have now found out that Jean had tried to explain what had happened to staff at various institutions, but the things she was saying to the staff had been dismissed as figments of her imagination.
"We now know she was telling the truth. The old Victorian house she claimed to have lived in did exist. But when officials went to find it, all they saw was a 1960s apartment block. Our old family home had been bulldozed - but it was there once."
A spokesman for Cheshire County Council said the case was being investigated.
how very sad. Someone threw away a person, over a few bits of money.
Dear Lord. So often we do not comprehend what wonderful lives we have been blessed with. All of a sudden my job, the kids homework, and my boss are not so bad.
Absolutely. Certainly makes you think.
I’m not going to jump to Dickensian conclusions here. Undoubtedly what was done to her was grossly unfair but I get the distinct impression she IS mentally retarded. Would a person of normal brain wattage have been so easily kept institutionalized for decades if she was of normally sound mind and didn’t want to be there? Would her parents so readily given her up to the system if they thought she didn’t belong there?
What can you say, just one more example of what happens with government in control.
That's exactly the word for it....
Though one might also suspect that there's a bit more to the story ... like, perhaps, she really was/is nuts, and the missing money was just (mistakenly) the final straw that led to her being institutionalized.
Amazing! Can anyone possibly imagine the horrors this woman went through by being wrongly locked up? I can’t.
Unbelieveable. And at the other extreme, here in the States, the mentally ill are dumped on the streets.
I thought Russians had invented bureaucrats, the French refined them and the British raised it to an art form.
Read the book “Hitch hikers guide to the Galaxy” a very long satire of the British bureaucratic system.
What a shame! I sincerely hope that this poor woman was able to find a measure of happiness in the life she was locked in.
Some day, with the correct leadership, HillaryCare can provide us many such examples like this.
On the bright side, after 20 years she went nuts anyway.
In our country, if you are not a public threat (sadly, sometimes if you are) you are released into society.
There is no excuse for this.
I don't think I've ever heard of a worse travesty.
Gee, guys, did it roll under the sofa maybe?
No wonder she’s not bitter. Losing such indifferent family members is no great loss.
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