A frail grandmother was left in floods of tears after being arrested on suspicion of theft before being locked in a cell for six hours.
Carer Mary Lou Nicholls, who was soon cleared of the charges, was marched out of her home and taken in for questioning after four police officers arrived on her doorstep.
The 72-year-old had been accused of theft relating to a watch and perfume belonging to an 86-year-old man she looks after.
Mary Lou, who has lived with her husband Chris at their home in Maidstone for 20 years, was stunned when there was a knock on their door around 10am on July 11.
Chris said: “There were four burly female officers. Two of them were in uniform and the others were in plain clothes. They asked to speak to Mary Lou and I invited them in. I was shocked. She would never, ever in a million years be involved with anything criminal.
“I just thought they would ask her a couple of questions and go. Then the police just stood around her and read her her rights.
“Two officers took her out of the house and marched her down the road in front of all our neighbours.”
Mary Lou has suffered from epilepsy since a young age, which can be triggered by stress. She also has had osteoporosis for more than 15 years and uses a walking stick to move around.
Chris added: “I told them she hadn’t had anything to eat, nor her medication.
“She is an ill woman who can hardly walk. They said ‘don’t worry we have nurses at the station’.
“Nurses won’t stop someone from having an epileptic fit, she needed me to be there. They said it was not possible and would let me know when she was free.”
She has been part of the healthcare industry her whole working life, first joining the NHS in 1975.
She worked at a number of hospitals, looking after mentally-ill patients – including children and new mothers.
After she was driven to Maidstone Police Station, Mary Lou was questioned.
Officers asked her about the items that were reported stolen and showed her pictures of them.
Chris waited while their home was searched. During this time Mary Lou was put in a jail cell.
She said: “I told them I needed to go to the toilet and the officer gave me a little bit of tissue.
“I kept looking at the camera, thinking about my dignity and it disquieted me.
“I was telling myself I’d be fine, but I’d never seen anything like it.”
Mary Lou vaguely recalls having an epileptic seizure and says she sometimes doesn’t even realise she has had one until afterwards.
“I felt like the whole room was closing down on me,” she explained. “I just felt claustrophobic. I panicked and started shaking.
‘She is an ill woman who can hardly walk...’
“That’s when I heard somebody come in, telling me I’ll be alright.”
“I told the officer I felt claustrophobic and they took me out in the yard,” she added.
“She was sitting there, watching me and asked if I wanted to play football. I said ‘pardon?’ – I couldn’t believe it.
“There I was panicking and having heart palpitations. It was absolutely dreadful.”
Eight hours later, Mary Lou was released.
On July 13, the couple decided to make a complaint via text about her treatment to one of the officers overseeing the case.
They claim they then received an email as well as a phone call six days later, which confirmed she had been exonerated.
The officer also apologised “for all the stress it may have caused them”.
On July 29, they received a formal letter from the police saying no charges have been made due to insufficient evidence.
‘I just felt claustrophobic. I panicked and started shaking.’
Mary Lou says she has now decided to retire and believes she won’t ever get over what happened.
“I thought the police were there to protect me. I felt like a criminal, I really did,” she said.
“To see officers now, I just don’t trust them as far as I am concerned.”
Kent Police’s Det Ch Insp Ben Loose said: “On June 12 we received a report that between March 22 and May 29, several items including a watch and perfume were stolen from the Whitstable home of an 86-year-old man.
“Following investigation, a woman from Maidstone was arrested at her home address in connection with this allegation on July 11.
“Four officers went to the premises in unmarked police vehicles, two to complete a search of the property and the others to accompany her to Maidstone Police Station.
“Whilst at the station, officers carried out regular welfare checks and when the woman reported a medical episode, the custody officer sought immediate advice from a health practitioner.
“She was then accompanied to an exercise area by a member of staff and provided with refreshments.
“The woman was interviewed once she had spoken with her legal representative and then bailed pending further inquiries.
“Around two weeks later, and following further investigation and consultation with the victim, she was told there would be no further action.”
‘We take all reports of crime seriously and officers will investigate allegations thoroughly to ensure the best possible service for victims.’
He added: “We take all reports of crime seriously and officers will investigate allegations thoroughly to ensure the best possible service for victims.
“Where officers identify there isn’t enough evidence to charge someone, we will notify that person at the earliest opportunity.”
Police have also confirmed that a formal complaint was made to their Professional Standards Department regarding the arrest.
However, they add that she decided that she did not want to pursue the matter.
Mary Lou could have retired several years ago but continued working as she loved the work. But all that has changed now.
She added: “What really upset me more is that I never got to say goodbye to all the clients that I had."