Please note that text in red denotes my comments

This article was written nine years ago by London journalist Peter Mason.

Freddie Andrews has seen better days. He lives in Belfast with his 74 year old sister Eileen, surviving on a small hand-out each week for food, clothes, travel, and his only real luxury, cigarettes.

He is 65 now and spends most of his time sitting in his living room, watching TV and smoking. He has been mentally handicapped since an operation went wrong about 45 years ago, leaving him with a mental age of a ten year old.

The people at the day centre are good to him, but he gets little outside stimulation. Earlier this year he went on a week to Newcastle, Co. Down, but it was an expensive and rare treat. He had no money to go on regular holidays and until recently hadn't had a break away from home for more than five years. Life has been a constant struggle.

Which is strange really, because Freddie should be one of the wealthiest men in Northern Ireland. His father, Fred Andrews senior, owned huge tracts of land and property in central Belfast, and left most of it to his son. But in the years since Fred senior died, some bizarre things have happened. His son has relied on welfare handouts and his sister's state pension, existing for most of the time in conditions that would have broken his father's heart.

Freddie's tragic story goes back to 1924 when the entrepreneurial Fred senior, a motor-cycle rider of repute who regularly competed in the Ulster Grand Prix, set up one of Northern Ireland's first car showrooms in Belfast's Smithfield Square. He was a naturally astute businessman, and before long had built Andrews & Co into one of the biggest motor distributors in Ireland, buying and selling new or used cars from all and sundry, including Buckingham Palace.

Andrews & Co was a roaring success, and over many years Fred senior added to his portfolio of property in Smithfield and other areas of Belfast and Northern Ireland.

He loved to do business; buying and selling property as much for the fun of it as anything else. But by the 1960s Fred's property dealing had taken on a new purpose. By now a very wealthy man, perhaps even a millionaire, and with his family beginning to grow up, he turned his attention to helping Freddie, the second of his two sons, who was having problems. Every time he bought a piece of land or property he began putting it in Freddie's name as a safeguard for the future.

He did so because Freddie was no longer capable of looking after himself. He had been a normal active boy in his early years, a talented cricketer and pianist, who went off to the prestigious Armagh Royal boarding school in his teens during the war. But then his mind had started troubling him, and he began hearing voices. At age 16, as his behavioural problems became too much for the teachers to cope with, he returned home at the suggestion of the school and was diagnosed schizophrenic.[We were never aware, at that time, of what was wrong with Freddie]

Fred senior, determined to give his son the best treatment money could buy, was persuaded by medical advisers to pack Freddie off to Scotland for what, at the time, was considered a pioneering treatment full of possibilities. Freddie was given a lobotomy.

The operation went woefully wrong, and when Freddie woke up he was a different person. "It just took the life out of him," says sister Eileen. "All those talents he had, the spark, it just disappeared. They made him mentally handicapped and from then on he had to be supervised for the rest of his life. He can't dress himself properly, can't look after himself and he needs constant attention."

Fred senior died unexpectedly of a heart attack in August 1972, aged 79; still working as hard as he had ever done, and still with the reigns of the family business firmly under his control. He had been a kindly but patriarchal figure, never letting his wife or his family in on the secrets of the trade, distancing them from the harsh realities of second hand car dealing. His wife Minetta, aged 75 at the time of his death, knew next to nothing about his business affairs; she ran the home, with the help of a house-keeper. His eldest son, Billy, who worked as a salesman in the business, did not inherit his father's natural aptitude for business, and Fred senior had hardly prepared him well for succession.

In short, the grief-stricken Andrews family didn't have the slightest clue what Fred senior did or didn't own, who would get what on his death, and how the business would continue. With his sudden departure still upon them they were hardly in a fit state to worry about such practicalities just yet, but Fred senior was nothing if not a practical man, and he had written a will, which the family solicitors James Boston & Sullivan would sort out.

Or so they thought. Into this confusion, just one indecent day after Fred senior's death, stepped a born again Christian named Charlie Gilpin, a member of the austere Plymouth Brethren sect who was revered, as only such people are in Northern Ireland, as a good Christian man.

Gilpin was full of sympathy, concern - and self interest. He ran a humble furniture shop in Belfast's Sandy Row, went to Ebenezer Church in Bangor and within a few days had persuaded Mrs Andrews to ditch James Boston & Sullivan for a good Christian lawyer named Herbert Wright. Wright worked for the Belfast solicitors Tughan and Co as a junior and was Gilpin's own solicitor. On 25 June 1973 Minetta Andrews and Freddie signed an authorisation releasing all Freddie's title deeds and her own affairs to Tughan & Co.

"My mother was a very naive person who hadn't a clue and wasn't at all worldly," says Eileen. "She thought Gilpin was a good man and she listened to him, but from that moment she and Freddie were in trouble".

With Wright in charge of Mrs Andrew's affairs, and Mrs Andrews lost in her grief, Gilpin began to put his plans into action. He gained immediate access to Fred senior's personal safe, the contents of which were unknown to anyone in the family, and which no-one has ever seen since. And he also got hold of the will before anyone else had seen it, waving it at Billy (Freddie's older brother) during a visit to Smithfield shortly after Fred senior's death.

Most importantly Wright, and therefore by default Gilpin, who the family claims was pulling the strings, was put in charge of the affairs of Freddie and Mrs Andrews. From 1973 onwards Gilpin and Herbert Wright began the process of disposing unethically and illegally of parcels of the mentally handicapped Freddie's property.

The first properties to go were a shop and garage at 3, 4, and 5 Little King Street in the centre of Belfast, sold for 14,000 to a builder named Thomas Dobbin who alleged his name was used to buy the properties for a solicitor named Mr Patrick Morris. The money, supposedly, was put into Freddie's account. But no-one in the family was told of the sale; it was not until the second of Gilpin's property deals that Fred's elder son and daughters realised something was afoot.

The family residence, No 14 Castlehill Road, was more a mansion than a house, a magnificent pile in the well-to-do Stormont area of Belfast up near the castle, where the neighbours were judges, senior civil servants and top figures in the police force. The house had five bedrooms, a billiard room, two bathrooms, a huge garden, an impressive oak fireplace, more than 4,000 square foot of floor area, a dance floor and mahogany fittings everywhere. Just Freddie and his ageing mother lived there now, but this was where they were happiest, a house full of memories, a place that was luxurious and homely. Fred senior had assigned the house to his son in November 1960, to ensure Freddie would have it as his home for life. Gilpin and Wright, however, had other ideas. Three years after Fred senior died they put the place up for sale. Leaving 14 Castlehill Road was the last thing Mrs Andrews and Freddie wanted, but Gilpin told them they had no choice because there was no money left - this was the only way of raising much-needed funds.

The house was sold for a bargain price of 38,750 on 14 November 1975 by Ulster Property Sales to Patrick Jemphrey, a solicitor. Freddie and his mum, feeling lost, were moved to Norwood Gardens, where Gilpin had fixed for them to buy an unfamiliar detached house in a poor state of repair, a property that had been on the market for a long time with no takers. They paid 23,500 for it, but the family still hasn't discovered what happened to the 15,250 left over from the move, or the many valuable articles of furniture which disappeared in the switch to a smaller house. Among them was a large safe containing documents, which was removed by Gilpin and never seen again.

Further sales of Freddie's property followed. In October 1977 Freddie's prime property in Smithfield, a two-storey car showroom 60 - 65 Smithfield and 1 - 11 Francis Street, was sold to Neville Johnston Garages, of which Gilpin was a major shareholder, for just 35,000. In January 1978 a parcel of nine properties in Winetavern Street, Belfast, which had been bought in Freddie's name by his father in 1968, was sold to Joe Kavanagh, a local trader, for 17,000, 15,083 of which was credited to a Northern Ireland Industrial Bank account in Bangor in the names of Charles Gilpin and Herbert Wright. One month before the first deal, Gilpin, by clever manipulation, had persuaded Billy Andrews to sell the family firm, Andrews & Co, to Neville Johnston Garages.

Between 1972 and 1978 then, Gilpin and Wright 'cared' for the extremely vulnerable Freddie Andrews by selling off virtually all the property Fred senior had taken a lifetime to amass. At the time of Fred senior's death Freddie Andrews' estate boasted at least 26 pieces of land property, but after, first, Gilpin and Wright and, second, the Official Solicitors taking over Freddie's affairs, he owned just one property, the dilapidated house to which he and his mother had been moved against their will. [One Official Solicitor later gave this house to me, (Eileen Wright) which was one of a series of gifts to the wider family circle, out of Freddie's estate. This has left Freddie with no property whatsoever. The Official Solicitor is forbidden by law from doing this.] By selling the family silver, Gilpin and Wright had generated a huge slush fund of cash which Freddie never had any access to, losing him untold amounts in rent in the process.

The family's disquiet about Gilpin's activities didn't take long to materialise, especially after 'For Sale' signs went up at the family home in Castlehill Road.

Feeling confused, uninformed and still trying to keep faith in the legal establishment, Freddie's family quarrelled among themselves rather than tackle Tughan & Co and the charismatic Gilpin. The state of anxious inertia continued until late 1978, when Eileen - who freely admits the family should have acted earlier - finally decided to do something.

On 11 January 1979 Eileen, with the support of the rest of the family, placed Freddie in the care of the Official Solicitor, the government's legal representative responsible for looking after those deemed unable to handle their own affairs. Transferring Freddie's financial affairs to the protection of the state, she reasoned, would put a stop to the shady dealings and allow the Official Solicitor to investigate what had been happening since Fred senior's death.

Now that Freddie was in proper hands, argued the family, they could find out exactly what had happened to his money and property, bring those responsible to book, prevent any further sale of his belongings, release money to allow him a better quality of life, and make sure his future was once again secure.

Or so the theory went. The Official Solicitor at the time, Belfast lawyer John Drennan, was named by the courts as Freddie's trustee, assuming legal and moral responsibility for administering his affairs, but quickly the family began to feel he was doing anything but. Over the next 15 years, they say, Drennan and his various successors as Official Solicitor took no steps to sort out Freddie's affairs; they failed to investigate, refused to cooperate with the family and even allowed further property deals to take place.

By the early eighties Eileen had lost faith in the Official Solicitor and decided to call in the RUC fraud squad. Initially reluctant to pursue the case, the RUC appointed an experienced officer, Detective Constable Mervyn Patterson, to investigate the case. After an exhaustive two and a half year enquiry Patterson believed he had uncovered a tangled web of fraud, forgery and malpractice, which implicated a number of figures in the legal establishment, not just Gilpin and Wright. His confidential report on the affair was also highly critical of the Official Solicitor.

In 1983, however, as Patterson was pushing for charges to be brought, his superiors told him to lay off the case and the files were laid to one side. Angry at the decision, Patterson, who was having other problems with his colleagues, supplemented his official RUC notes with a privately written account outlining his misgivings about the property deals, and continued to press for action.

At work he began to complain of victimisation and when he persisted in following the case his colleagues refused to talk to him - he was sent of Coventry. His superiors put it about that Patterson was drinking too much and becoming mentally unstable. The pressure had indeed taken its psychological toll, and when Patterson was taken off duty 'for health reasons' he went on holiday to Scotland to get away from things.

While in Scotland he was arrested by the police, apparently on a tip off, for travelling with his service revolver, even though he had handed it in when he was declared unfit for duty. No charges were brought.

Isolated and confused, Patterson continued to press Freddie's case but became so depressed by the collapse of his career that in 1986 he wrote to his Chief Constable - and the local newspaper - threatening suicide unless the Andrews case and his allegations of victimisation at work were properly investigated.

Within five days of the demand, Patterson's body was found on the shore of Belfast Lough near his Greenisland home, his hands tied behind his back, his feet bound and a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner, failing to explain how a man whose hands and feet were bound could shoot himself, and placing little importance on the fact the no shotgun was found anywhere near the body, concluded that Patterson had committed suicide, faking his own murder in paranoid revenge against his colleagues. No weapon has ever been recovered in connection with Patterson's death.

Patterson's grisly end shocked the Andrews family to the core, but spurred Eileen into what has become an obsessive crusade to get to the truth behind Freddie's stolen fortune - a crusade which continues to this day.

In the ensuing years, Eileen has tried every avenue, including the Prime Minister's office, to force the Official Solicitor to reveal details of Freddie's financial affairs, to release more of his money so he can live a more comfortable life, and to investigate the activities of the property firms, accountants and legal advisers involved. Much of Freddie's land now forms part of Belfast's main shopping area and is now valued at around 100,000,000 while Freddie received, at first nothing, then 25 per week, then 50 per week.

Charles Gilpin died in June 1984 after a lifetime of suspect wheeling and dealing, but Herbert Wright, who Eileen believes was set up as the small-time fall guy for Gilpin and others, was eventually charged and convicted of deception at Belfast Crown Court after the Ryland Vehicle Group - not the Official Solicitor or the RUC - brought charges over the sale of 60 - 65 Smithfield Square. That land had been 'sold' by Freddie to Neville Johnston for 35,000 ten years earlier. The property had eventually been sold on to Ryland for 375,000, but after campaigning from Eileen, Ryland began to believe the land had been illegally sold on Freddie's behalf, and the court agreed.

Eileen initially believed Wright's conviction would open up the can of worms and lead to further investigations. But the Official Solicitor and the RUC both said the Wright conviction was the beginning and the end - and have said so ad nauseam ever since. Wright was struck off for three years and has now, after a spell working for Charlie Gilpin's solicitor-son, become a computer manager at Sherwood Computers in Belfast.

Not one in the succession of Official Solicitors has ever agreed to co-operate with Eileen, consistently blocking her attempts to collect information and even refusing the family access to Freddie's pre-1979 accounts, which existed before Freddie was put into care and should, theoretically at least, lie outside the Official Solicitor's remit. Her relations with the Official Solicitor's office have been strained in the extreme, as successive incumbents have refused to see her or dismissed her as a 'dangerous' crank.

To make matters worse, Eileen claims she has been unable to find a solicitor in Northern Ireland prepared to take on her case, and her suspicion remains that the province's close-knit legal fraternity has too much to hide for anyone to be allowed free reign over this complicated case.

Relations with the latest Official Solicitor have been slightly more cordial but still strained. In May 1994, after a public campaign by local Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey (one of the few politicians to have supported the family) the Official Solicitor agreed to release 17,000 to pay for much needed improvements to Freddie's house, which had remained in what Eileen describes as an "appalling" condition for many years.

But the fight to find out just how much money Freddie has left - and to give him greater access to it - continues. Eileen will not rest until she achieves that, and until she gets an independent inquiry into what happened to Freddie's fortune after his father's death.

"This isn't just about Freddie, although it's bad enough that he should be denied what is rightfully his," says Councillor McGimpsey. "This is also about the rights, in a free society, of close members of a patient's family to see important documents. And it's also about the whole issue of who investigates the Official Solicitor. Right now it appears as if he or she is above the law, and that cannot be right. If there is a complaint about the way in which the Official Solicitor's office had done its job, then there should be a quick and easy way of forcing an investigation. That must be the case, or vulnerable people like Freddie cannot be properly protected."