Struck-off GP finds new way to exploit elderly

Doctor guilty of unprofessional conduct has developed a profitable alternative speciality; preying on old women.

A few weeks ago, UK-based businessman Andrew Wood became very concerned when he noticed that a number of strange transactions were taking place from the bank account of his 82-year-old mother Marguerite Harness-Wood in Cape Town. Wood has power of attorney to manage his mother's affairs.

"She doesn't normally spend money on a regular basis, but suddenly there were withdrawals of about R2,000 every day. This happened over a period of about two weeks," Wood told Noseweek. "She'd ring me and say 'I need R2,000 for food', then she'd phone again and say she needed it for fuel and other things. I would put the money in and it would be gone the next day. Then she'd call again… I was worried that something was going wrong. I rang her and asked her to tell me about these transactions. She said I had to trust her, that she knew what she was doing - but she wouldn't tell me why she had been withdrawing the cash."

Alarm bells went off when his mother next rang - to ask him for £24,000 (about half a million rand), and then repeated her request the following week. "I called her and said 'can you tell me what it's for and I will happily send it over'."

Already perturbed, Wood had another shock when he got a call from his mother to tell him she had "kidnapped" her husband (Wood's stepfather, Brian Harness-Wood) from the Tokai Estate Health Care Centre, where he was in frail care. "I had put Brian into the Tokai centre when I was last in South Africa, a few weeks previously. He had been suffering from dementia and it was decided he needed extra care. "When my mother told me she'd 'kidnapped him' she was very excited and told me she'd gone in there sleuthlike to get him out. She said she had told him she was taking him out for breakfast and then she didn't take him back. I was really worried about Brian.

Conman Johann van Rooyen

"I said to her, 'Mother, who helped you to do this?' and she would not tell me. She also refused to tell me where she had moved him to."

So the horrified Wood called the Tokai Estate Health Care Centre to ask who had taken his stepfather out of their facility.

"Luckily, the person who had accompanied my mother had written his name on the visitors' log and so we looked up his name," Wood said.

The name that popped up was that of Johann van Rooyen. A quick internet search established that Van Rooyen was a doctor who had been found guilty of unprofessional conduct by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) - and struck off the roll by the Medical and Dental Professions Board last year.

Wood found an article on IOL, published on 26 July 2017, headlined "Doctor found guilty of fleecing elderly woman out of life savings".

The story said the HPCSA found Van Rooyen - who had practised as a GP at 14 Gabriel Road, Plumstead - guilty of unprofessional conduct for using his doctor/patient relationship to enrich himself.

The article said Van Rooyen appeared before the committee after he'd been accused of stealing R450,000 from a patient of 30 years, Marjorie Pelton.

According to IOL: "Pelton's daughter, Cheryl Bluff, said Van Rooyen accompanied her mother, who was about 76 years old at the time, to the bank several times and wrote various cheques, which Van Rooyen made her sign. Bluff said her mother died in 2012 after suffering from a brain tumour and was senile at the time that Van Rooyen treated her."

According to Bluff, the missing money was meant for Pelton's frail care, but when she needed it, there was nothing left in the bank.

Having read the article, Wood immediately called a friend in Cape Town and asked him to check on his mother. "My friend went round (the weekend before I arrived) to see if he could find out anything for me. He reported back that Van Rooyen was at my mother's house and was taking photographs of things in her home - with my mother's blessing - with a view to selling them for her. They were items like old Chanel suits which she had had for many years, ornaments, crockery and other objects.

"My friend said they were talking about how Van Rooyen had fallen on hard times. He said Mother was talking about Van Rooyen moving into her home, and that he was living out of a car, or something to that effect."

A panicked Wood flew to Cape Town and arrived on Sunday, 18 November to try to sort out his mother's affairs, and because he was deeply concerned about his stepfather's wellbeing. The first he had heard about his stepfather's whereabouts was when he received an email on 15 November from a Lizann Painter, matron at the Brenthurst Residence for the elderly in Plumstead. It emerged that his stepfather had been moved there on 14 November.

"I had actually visited the facility previously when I was looking for a place for my stepfather. There was nothing wrong with it, it just was not my first choice, and so I put him into the Tokai facility.

"The email from Lizann Painter appeared to be defensive about how Brian had arrived there and it was totally unsolicited. It just didn't sit right with me," said Wood.

In her email, Painter stated that "suddenly" a bed had become available and was assured by Wood's mother that she could transfer him there.

Marguerite Harness-Wood and her gallant son Andrew

It read: "He arrived in good spirits yesterday morning with very few goods and no medications which my Nursing Manager queried with the [Tokai] facility, to find that he had not been officially discharged, absolutely not per our protocol.

"I then contacted your mom to advise her regarding the conditions of Admission here [that they] MUST be above board as we do business with all these facilities, upon which she tells me she went back last night and formally discharged him and received his medications which were then delivered here forthwith.

"Your step-dad is in good shape physically but has some brain changes which you indicated you knew about. He is very sociable and has started interacting with our other clients here already.

"South Africa has very strict ElderCare Laws which I endeavour to adhere to and will follow the stipulated processes. I am not at liberty to share any information except about him and his well-being and trust you understand my professional restraints about any other parties except him.

"I can assure you that your stepfather is in good hands here and that we run a respectful business," said Painter's email.

Wood called Painter as soon as he got her email and asked her how it happened that his stepfather had got into Brenthurst. "I asked her who had been with my mother when she took Brian to Brenthurst. At first she was very vague and said, 'Oh, nobody was with your mother, she was on her own'. But when I pressed her, she eventually said that actually there was a gentleman with her called Johann van Rooyen.

"She then told me she had known Van Rooyen for a number of years and he had placed a number or people in this facility over the years. I was getting more and more worried about what was happening at this point. I was sure that before somebody can be accepted into a home, there are proper procedures you have to go through, including a doctor's certificate, as well as reports from a geriatrician and a psychologist.

"There should also be a paper trail for the move. Most important, they should have seen him prior to his admission, which is what happened when we put him into the Tokai centre. If you admit someone, you should see them before they arrive to assess their assisted-living needs.

"It appeared to me that they just took Brian in on the say-so of Van Rooyen and my mother - with no assessments, nothing. It appeared to me there was some sort of collaboration going on."

Wood found it worrying that, after putting the phone down from speaking to Lizann Painter, within seconds, he got a call from his mother saying she had heard he was coming over to South Africa. "She said she'd had a call from the care home… but I believe the call went to Van Rooyen - who was with her - to tell him I was coming over. My big question was, why was the care home liaising with Van Rooyen?"

On arrival in Cape Town, Wood checked into a B&B near his mother's house. On his initial visit to his mother he established that she had fallen for Van Rooyen's not inconsiderable charm.

Wood contacted the Kirstenhof police and told them about Van Rooyen, but the police said there was nothing they could do because his mother had full mental capacity so was free to give her money, car and even her house away to anyone she wanted to.

Wood also met with Cheryl Bluff, the daughter of the late Marjorie Pelton, whom Van Rooyen had cleaned out financially.

Bluff told him she was recently approached by the HPCSA to say Van Rooyen had applied for his medical licence to be reinstated and that she voiced strong opposition to this.

Wood is a biochemist by training and now works in property, supplying student rooms in Swansea, Wales. He told Noseweek that his mother - a former music teacher who went on to become the first female non-executive director of the Yorkshire Electricity Board and also stood for Parliament - came to South Africa on holiday about ten years ago, fell in love with it and moved here with her husband, Brian.

Wood's mother told him she met Van Rooyen about ten years ago when she first moved to South Africa as he had been the family doctor of a close friend.

"I did not want to confront my mother about this on her own, so I decided to wait until Van Rooyen was at her house and then to hopefully get him to tell her everything about his life. He arrived at her house on Monday (November 19), the day after my arrival in Cape Town."

Wood asked Beth Wallace, the owner of the B&B where was staying, to accompany him.

"We went to my mother's house. I pressed the buzzer, the sliding gate opened and Van Rooyen walked out and held out his hand to me, saying, 'Pleased to meet you'.

"I said to him, 'I really don't want to shake your hand, but please come inside and sit down.' I thought he'd be shocked but he wasn't.

"I said, 'Can you please tell my mother about your past'' and my mother said, 'But I know about his past. I know he was a GP, I know he was struck off by the HPCSA, I know about his gambling, I know all these things about him but I need the mental stimulation he is providing me.'

"My mother was not at all upset. She completely believed in him.

"I could not believe this gentleman could be so unfased by what he was hearing and what we were asking him. He was dressed in a suit and looked very slick and suave. He was not at all unnerved."

Marguerite Harness-Wood

Wood said the conversation with Van Rooyen and his mother went on for some time, after which Wood asked Van Rooyen to leave. Wallace also left at that stage.

"I then sat with mother and we had a calm conversation and she said she was really enjoying the mental stimulation which Van Rooyen offered her. On top of that, he had helped her to re-license her husband's car and assisted with other chores.

It also emerged that Van Rooyen had given his mother at least two injections, including "a cortisone injection" in her shoulder, despite his having been struck off by the HPCSA.

"She told me Van Rooyen had accompanied her on a visit to Brenthurst with a view to placing Brian in the facility. Then she mentioned that Van Rooyen had organised with her for Brian to be reassessed at the Brenthurst medical facility by a Dr Dietrich - and that she, too, was going the next day, a Tuesday, to be assessed by the same gentleman. She said Van Rooyen had suggested this.

"I said to her 'this sounds like a ruse'. I called Brenthurst and was told that Brian had already been assessed by Dr Dietrich. I asked them for the results and they said he had had to leave on an emergency and that they would send the results later."

Wood said he feared that, in the case of both Brian and his mother, the assessment could come back saying Brian had his full mental capacity.

"I was worried that, with that assessment, they could start withdrawing money from his account because he may have said it was okay. But he has already been diagnosed with dementia."

Wood was also suspicious when his mother said she wanted to be present at Brian's psychiatric assessment but that Van Rooyen had reportedly told her she wasn't fit enough to do that.

"I was also most concerned that she had also been booked in for an assessment - at Brenthurst. Why at Brenthurst? I was worried that the whole idea was to pronounce my mother capable so that Van Rooyen could keep preying on her.

By this stage, Wood had had some success in persuading his mother that Van Rooyen might not have her best interests at heart. So she ignored a few calls that followed from Van Rooyen over the next two days. She also decided to cancel the psychological assessment at Brenthurst that had been booked by Van Rooyen, scheduled for Tuesday 20 November.

"However, when my mother called Brenthurst, she was told Van Rooyen had already cancelled the planned appointment." Wood said his mother was also told by matron Lizann Painter that Van Rooyen told her he'd been physically assaulted by Andrew Wood at Harness-Wood's house the previous day.

"My mother called me in tears to say Van Rooyen had told her I'd beaten him up and the police were looking for me to put me in prison. He wanted to meet at my mother's house for me to apologise and pay his medical costs."

On Wednesday 21 November, Andrew Wood emailed Noseweek to say: "This morning my mother phoned Brenthurst to inquire about the tests Brian had with Dr Dietrich. Lizann (Painter) said Van Rooyen had a black eye and a bad leg. She said my mother had a contract with Van Rooyen and that she needed to sign it. She said she was expecting us this afternoon to meet with her and Van Rooyen so that I could settle up with him."

A day or so later, Wood was told that Van Rooyen had in fact laid charges of assault against him. He postponed his flight home to deal with the charges and carried on trying to deal with his mother and with Brian.

"I submitted a statement to the police as did B&B owner Beth Wallace who had been at the meeting on the Monday with my mother and Van Rooyen."

By then Wood had discovered that Van Rooyen had in fact issued a number of receipts to his mother, for "mentoring" services. He showed Noseweek one of the invoices - featuring Mrs HarnessWood's name and address, and dates on which Van Rooyen "mentored" her at a rate of R650 an hour.

On 5 November, he invoiced her for R1,950 for three hours of mentoring and vehicle transport and the next day he invoiced her for R3,900. There was an invoice following that, for R3,950; the next day, for R3,900; and the day after that, for R2,600.

When Wood left the UK to fly to South Africa, his mother's current account had been wiped out. "There was no money left in it." He also subsequently found that money had been taken from Brian's Standard Bank account as well as from his account in the UK. He was still to verify amounts.

Having postponed several flights home to deal with his mother - and his impending arrest for alleged assault - Wood then received the news that his stepfather had fallen at Brenthurst - barely two weeks into his stay at the facility - and had to be admitted to hospital.

Responses from Brenthurst to Noseweek's questions about Brian's fall were confusing and contradictory. A staff nurse said he had fallen in his room, while matron Painter said he had fallen in the hallway.

Brian was admitted to Vincent Pallotti Hospital and a distressed Andrew Wood decided it was time to look for an alternative home for his stepfather - who has now been accepted into another care facility and was due to move there as soon as he was declared well enough.

Interestingly, Brenthurst has waived all expenses for Brian's brief stay with them - and the fee for the consultation with Dr Dietrich has also been waived because he had already had one done with a geriatrician.

Noseweek paid a visit to Marguerite Harness-Wood - who by then appeared frightened of Van Rooyen and was soon to seek a restraining order against him. She told Noseweek it was Van Rooyen who accompanied her to Brenthurst with a view to placing Brian there.

She confirmed he gave her several injections. And she confirmed she had given Van Rooyen her bank card and bank details so that he could draw money for her.

Harness-Wood's face lit up as she described how she and Van Rooyen would drive together past certain restaurants - including La Colombe and Foxcroft in Constantia - and he would suggest they dine there together. "All the people in the restaurants remembered me from way back. It gave me the confidence to start going out again, even on my own," she said.

Noseweek gave Van Rooyen a call and asked him if he could explain, first, how he could have given Mrs Harness-Wood injections after being struck off as a doctor - as well as why he was taking money from her.

Van Rooyen refused to engage at all, saying he was in Port Elizabeth and that his car had packed up. Repeated attempts to get answers resulted in Van Rooyen putting the phone down. When Noseweek called Lizann Painter to ask her about the admission procedures followed for Brian, as well as about his fall - and to ask what her relationship was with Van Rooyen - she also declined to respond and slammed the phone down.

The charges against Andrew Wood were dropped for lack of evidence, so he was able to leave Cape Town to return to the UK.

In another development, a search by the police found that the number plate on Van Rooyen's car is false - and belongs to a truck.

In the meantime, a number of other people have spoken to Noseweek about their own experiences with Van Rooyen. We will keep readers updated.

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Submitted by : Ovenecky on 2019-01-07 16:22:32
The point is that I feel sorry for lonely old women. If Van Rooyen's way of helping them is the only available option, it is acceptable. If you can afford it. Rich people can do things, should I list them?
Mrs Harness-Wood appears to be completely neglected.
Van Rooyen recognised my own medical problem when the specialist did not. He also borrowed money from me and did not repay the loan. That was many years ago and I did not know what he was doing since then.
Submitted by : Ovenecky on 2019-01-05 19:01:21
He was an excellent doctor (in Plumstead) but with pathological gambling problem. The article shows that he provided good service to Mrs Harness-Wood and if she was rich enough everything would be OK.

Editor's Note
You have missed the point of our story entirely - and failed to note his previous history which saw him struck off as a doctor. Either that, or you see nothing wrong with a charming conman fleecing gullible, lonely old women.


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