Clutching a bouquet of her 97-year-old mother’s favourite roses, something inside Ylenia Angeli cracked when she arrived with daughter Leandra for their last care home ‘window visit’ before the new lockdown.
As Leandra broke down in tears at the pitiful sight of her grandmother, her mother, retired nurse Ylenia, 73, pressed up against the glass, distraught at just how confused her own mother Tina appeared. Despite suffering from dementia, Tina’s face normally lit up when she saw her family.
This time, there was barely a flicker of recognition. Thin and frail, she seemed to be deteriorating. Desperate, Ylenia turned to a member of staff — a female admin worker on duty — pleading for her mother to be wheeled into the courtyard so they could talk to her properly.
‘She said: “No, it’s too cold.” So I replied: “How about you put a hat on her and a blanket?” ’ says Ylenia. ‘I could hear my daughter crying, emotions were running high so, when this woman told me, “Are you going to just stand there arguing?” I’m afraid I saw red and thought, “How dare you.”
‘There was a gap in the door, my mother was just three feet away. All I knew was that I wanted to hold my mother and nothing was going to stop me.
Clutching a bouquet of her 97-year-old mother’s favourite roses, something inside Ylenia Angeli cracked when she arrived with daughter Leandra for their last care home ‘window visit’ before the new lockdown (pictured together previously)
‘Being separated from her was almost too much to bear. After nine months of Covid restrictions, I couldn’t stand it any more. Nothing was planned, nothing was intentional; it was pure instinct. I needed to wrap my arms around her and tell her she was loved.’
Armed with her roses, Ylenia made a dash for the gap in the door while the employee at Northgate House care home in Market Weighton, Yorkshire, robustly but unsuccessfully tried to block her path.
‘As I was hugging my mother, she then tried to pull the wheelchair with my mother in it away from me,’ says Ylenia.
‘It was horrendous, like something out of your worst nightmare. As my mother was giving me kisses, this staff member then stormed off saying: “I am calling the police.”’
Daughter Leandra Ashton, 41, continues: ‘I said: “Can we please hang fire here, you don’t need to do that,”. But she was calling the police and I watched as Mum calmly sat with my nan, told her she loved her and then wheeled her outside to see me. ‘No one tried to stop her and I thought: “My God, I think we’ve just sprung Nan from the care home, let’s just keep going.”
Police were called and handcuffed Ylenia before placing her in the back of a patrol car (above) and taking her to the station
‘We put Nan in Mum’s car and drove to a garden centre about five minutes away and parked up to catch our breath and work out what we were going to do. We were both shaking, thinking: “Oh my God, what has just happened?”
‘Tina seemed so happy to be somewhere different and with us, she was looking around and trying to kiss us. We just wanted to take her home and care for her during lockdown.
‘But we knew they’d taken our number plate as we drove off and I thought: “Great, now it feels like we are on the run with my 97-year-old nan.”’ What happened next made headlines and TV news bulletins this week, proof — if any were needed — of the desperate state Covid and its rules and regulations have left some people in.
Blocked in by two police cars, Leandra captured on her mobile phone camera the moment her mum was arrested on suspicion of assault — footage of which would go viral.
The care home worker had apparently complained of being scratched, which Ylenia says must have been caused accidentally by the rose thorns in her bouquet during their tussle.
‘She was doing as much pushing of me as I was of her,’ says Ylenia. ‘She was doing a very good job of trying to bar my way.’
The images of Ylenia handcuffed in the back of the patrol car as Tina sat confused in the passenger seat of her daughter’s car (pictured) before being returned to the care home, were not only shocking but saddening
The images of Ylenia handcuffed in the back of the patrol car as Tina sat confused in the passenger seat of her daughter’s car before being returned to the care home, were not only shocking but saddening.
Leandra, an actress who once appeared in the TV soap Coronation Street, says: ‘I videoed it because I was so angry, thinking: “This is off the scale of insanity.” I felt we had to let people know the desperation and how the system is not allowing families to be together.’
Elegant and softly spoken, Ylenia — a nurse for more than 40 years — certainly doesn’t look like your typical getaway driver, even if her stately old Jaguar wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of The Sweeney.
She has never been in trouble with the police before and is relieved that, when taken to the police station, she was de-arrested and allowed home.
After the incident, assistant chief constable Chris Noble, from Humberside Police, said: ‘These are incredibly difficult circumstances and we sympathise with all families who are in this position.
‘We responded to a report of an assault at the care home, who are legally responsible for the woman’s care and were concerned for her well-being. As was our legal duty, we returned the lady to the home and a 73-year-old woman who was initially arrested was de-arrested and allowed to return home with her daughter.
‘We will continue to provide whatever support we can.’
Certainly, Ylenia has no complaint about the way officers responded.
As is sometimes the case with vulnerable people with dementia, Tina was under Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, which means social services and the local authority hold responsibility for her care and well-being.
Ylenia knew she had no right to remove her mother from the home, and acted on impulse, but says she would have been willing to go to prison for the right to hold her mother again.
‘Because I was refusing point blank to let them take my mother, I think they had no alternative but to handcuff me,’ she says.
‘I don’t think the officer wanted to and, before the handcuffing incident, he’d been very empathetic. At the station when he took them off, I thought I saw tears in his eyes. I felt very sad for him. Sad for us all, actually.’
Indeed, Ylenia feels incredibly guilty that, as a result of their spontaneous ‘jailbreak’, Tina will no doubt have to go into isolation and suffer further. They are speaking to social services and the local authority in an attempt to legally return Tina to Ylenia’s care.
‘I will fight with my last breath to get her home,’ says Ylenia.
‘If all else fails, I would gladly go to prison.’ For Ylenia and Leandra, the rapid deterioration of Tina during lockdown has been unbearably painful to witness when they remember the beautiful, vibrant, elegant woman she once was.
Born Annunziata Liberato — later known as Tina — she met Englishman Ernest Thornborough, a decorated Major in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, when he was stationed in the Italian city of Naples during World War II.
‘Neither of them could speak each other’s language, but it was love at first sight,’ says Ylenia.
‘My father arranged for her to work in his office. He cut a button off his trouser pocket and asked her to sew it back on because she was a very good seamstress and that led to a marriage which would last 65 years until his death’.
Following the end of the war and their 1946 wedding, Tina moved with her husband to Windermere in the Lake District, where Ylenia was born. She later worked for ten years as an auxiliary nurse in London.
Leandra says: ‘My nan was a wonderfully dignified, elegant, feisty, funny and sociable woman. She was the reason I decided to learn Italian at Cambridge, so I could speak fluently to her.
‘I remember when she came to see me perform in one my shows in my final year at drama school and all my friends said: “Wow! Look at your nan, she looks amazing”.’ ‘She was a real beauty, like Sophia Loren, with thick dark hair and a lovely smile.’
Leandra even wrote and directed a play called Napoli, based on her nan’s life and family, which was staged at the West Yorkshire Playhouse ten years ago before a UK tour. Ylenia was also very close to her mother and, like Tina, became a nurse and married an Army man.
Together they travelled the world. In the Middle East, Ylenia was a clinical instructor with her own teaching ward and lectured nursing medical students at Kuwait University.
In Australia, she worked on a surgical ward in a private hospital and, back in the UK, for the NHS at Darlington Memorial Hospital. In 1986, she and her exhusband opened their own 32-bed nursing home in North Yorkshire.
‘My parents had moved to a tiny village near Limoges in France to live with my Italian aunt, but my mother would often come over to visit and worked in the home with me,’ says Ylenia, whose father was awarded an MBE in 1963.
‘The residents adored her and one, who used to call her the Contessa, fell completely in love with her and wanted to marry her.’
Indeed, Ylenia, who ran the home for ten years until her divorce after 21 years, says she is more qualified than most care home staff to look after her own mother.
‘When my father fell ill with throat and lung cancer, I went over to France for a year to look after him until he passed away,’ she says. ‘He used to say to me: “I worry about your mother” and I told him, “You have no need to worry, Dad, because I will always care for her.” ‘I really feel I am letting my father down, as well as my mother, with all that has happened.’
Tina was first placed in a care home four years ago when Ylenia needed a knee replacement operation.
The arrangement was only meant to be temporary. But Tina broke her hip in a fall at the home, before Ylenia could have the knee operation, and took her mother back when she was discharged from hospital.
Leandra says: ‘Mum was struggling to cope with her knee, so it was the family who suggested she put Nan in a care home near me in York, so I could keep an eye on her while Mum had her operation.’
The family weren’t happy with the first care home Tina went to and, earlier this year, moved to her to Northgate House which had a good official rating.
After her knee replacement 18 months ago, Ylenia moved to York, visiting her mother for several hours every day. Then came lockdown. Leandra says: ‘Nan started to deteriorate very quickly.
Mum had been spending two hours every day feeding her and the levels of staffing just do not allow for that amount of time with one single person. ‘Her dementia meant she’d lost the ability to communicate in English, so we’d talk to her in her native tongue but, with lockdown, that all stopped.
Ylenia and Leandra were so concerned over Tina’s decline, they raised safeguarding issues which they claim were not addressed. In protest, Ylenia stopped paying the £1,800 a month top-up fees required in addition to those paid by her previous local authority.
So relations were already strained when Tina was rushed to A&E at the end of August with a suspected gastric bleed and aspiration pneumonia after vomiting. She was found to be suffering from severe constipation.
‘We were talking about getting a hospital bed installed in Mum’s home, looking into care packages, and yet Nan was discharged to the care home without our consent.
‘The point we got to on Wednesday didn’t come from zero. It had been building and, when your voice is getting nowhere, you get desperate,’ says Leandra.
Yvonne Rhodes, head of business management and commissioning at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, says: ‘We are aware of the situation and can provide assurance that we are working closely with all appropriate agencies and the care provider to ensure that the resident is safe and well cared for, which is, of course, our primary concern.
‘There are clear legal frameworks in place which need to be followed to support vulnerable people.’ When contacted yesterday, Northgate House care home declined to make any comment.
‘This is all about Nan’s quality of life,’ says Leandra. ‘It’s not about how long someone lives, it’s about how they live, giving them a life worth living.’ Ylenia adds: ‘I have total confidence in my ability to meet my mother’s needs. I wouldn’t dream of putting myself forward for the job otherwise. ‘All I want is to be able to hold my mum and tell her I love her.’
- Ylenia and Leandra have asked for a donation to be made to charity in return for this interview.
- Have you tried to take a parent out of a care home? Contact [email protected] dailymail.co.uk