A CHARITY boss has warned the number of vulnerable people being abused in Southend could be much higher than the 454 per cent rise in cases in seven years reported by Southend Council.

A staggering 682 incidents of abuse of vulnerable adults – including vulnerable older people, and those with learning or mental health difficulties – were recorded in the last financial year, compared to just 123 in 2006/7.

Of the cases, 470 involved people over 65, and 31 per cent have been cases of domestic abuse.

Andrew Gardner, chief executive of Age UK Essex, said: “Some of the increase has been due to increased media coverage of abuse cases in institutions.”

He added that because so many of the cases were taking place in people’s own homes, the true scale of incidents was still being under reported.

He added: “In cases where people aren’t getting bruises or ending up in hospital it is hard to see.

“Abuse is far more widespread than most people realise, from sexual and violent abuse right through to financial abuse.”

There were reported cases of neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and 32 incidents of sexual abuse last year.

The number of cases of “financial abuse”, which includes crimes such as theft, or tricking a vulnerable adult into handing over their property, rose from 61 in 2008/9 to 175 last year.

Lesley Salter, Southend councillor responsible for adult social care, said: “There have been increasing reports of abuse.

“We believe that is because people are getting more confident in reporting and are more aware of the situation of how to do so rather than because incidents of abuse are increasing.”