We’d been planning our lives together. Then one day some money went missing and I made a shocking discovery…
By Zoe Griffith, 22, from Stonehouse, Gloucestershire
I picked up the menu at our local Harvester and scrolled through the meal options. ‘What do you fancy?’ Luan, 25, smiled cheekily from the other side of the table.
I thought: ‘I fancy you’, blushing over Luan’s dark good looks.
I wasn’t exactly bowled over when Luan suggested the budget restaurant for our first date in March 2014 but as we tucked into our bargain burgers, I soon realised none of that mattered.
Luan’s personality more than made up for the lack of a fine dining experience. He was down to earth, fun and full of energy.
We’d met through my ex-boyfriend and quickly clicked.
‘I spent a couple of months in Italy before moving to the UK from Albania two years ago,’ Luan explained as we tucked into our meals.
He’d come to Britain for work, for a better life – and I admired that drive in him. Hard working, honest, mature and ready to find love, Luan was everything the local lads weren’t.
I was quickly smitten and within a few weeks Luan moved in with me. ‘Here you are, roomie,’ I grinned, passing Luan a new set of keys to my flat.
He’d been living with a mate but now we had a place to call our own, things moved quickly.
‘You know I see myself spending the rest of my life with you, Zoe,’ Luan said, wrapping me in a hug. ‘Marriage, kids, the lot. I love you.’
A grin broke out across my face. I couldn’t hide how happy Luan made me. I’d been waiting for a man like him for a long time – now he felt the same way about me.
I was so flattered, it was almost too good to be true.
‘Come on, they might be thousands of miles away, but I want you to get to know my family,’ Luan said excitedly, logging into Skype.
I felt nervous butterflies flutter in my stomach as he dialled the Albanian number. I thought: Luan must think a lot of me if he wants to introduce me to his family… I hope they like me!
But I needn’t have worried. His mum didn’t speak any English but his sister, Antonetta, was really warm and welcoming.
‘I’d love to come and visit… for your wedding!’ she giggled.
Despite the distance, I felt like part of the family. But although I would have done anything for Luan, there was one thing bothering me.
He’d always been in work – as a chef, in a hotel, behind bars and now washing cars – but despite working so hard, he never seemed to have any money.
I was forever helping him out financially and the truth was, my wages as a support worker at a residential home for autistic people, didn’t stretch far, and I was struggling to support us both.
‘Here, take my bank card,’ I’d told Luan one day, scribbling down my PIN number on a piece of paper. ‘You finish work before me, you can get dinner in for us.’
He used my card for groceries and if he ever needed to borrow £20 or so, he’d always ask. But when it go to the point I couldn’t withdraw any cash on payday, I knew something was up.
‘Luan, can you ring me back please, it’s important,’ I sighed into his answerphone, after I’d left the umpteenth voicemail message that day.
When he finally picked up the phone, he seemed flustered.
‘I just don’t understand it, it’s payday and I can’t get any money from the cashpoint,’ I told him. ‘Look, we’ll talk tonight. I’ll explain later,’ he said before quickly hanging up.
I’d had enough. I wanted answers – and so I went straight to my bank. ‘I’ll just pull up your details on our system, Miss Griffith,’ the cashier said as she clicked into her computer.
I watched as her face fell. ‘Your account’s been emptied. You’re £1,500 overdrawn,’ she told me. I looked at the statement in disbelief.
Money had been withdrawn for train tickets, in pubs, shops and Ladbrokes… a betting shop. I hadn’t spent the money, and certainly hadn’t been placing bets, so who had?
There could only be one culprit… Luan.
Furious, I rushed home where I turned detective. I sobbed hysterically as I turned the flat upside down, searching for clues.
When I found a betting slip, it was the final straw. They were stupid bets, on horses with ridiculous odds. Luan hadn’t just stolen my money – he’d frittered it away on gambling. Rat.
I’d seen and heard enough. I felt physically sick. I didn’t want to hear Luan’s excuses – there was no way he could wriggle his way out of this one.
I could barely breathe as I dialled 111 and called the police. I explained what happened and officers checked his details.
‘He’s on our watch list,’ police told me. ‘Luan is an illegal immigrant.’ His words hit like heavy punches. I thought: Did I know Luan at all?
I went into the station and gave a police interview. ‘You do know he’s 35, don’t you?’ the police officer told me.
I was stunned. I thought Luan had been driven, someone who knew what he wanted in life. He was more mature than the other boys I’d dated – but I’d thought he was 25, not 35.
When I told police Luan had stolen £1,500 from me, together we hatched a plan. ‘It’s best that you act like nothing’s happened. We don’t want him to do a runner,’ an officer explained.
‘He can’t know that anything’s up. Arrange to meet him – then we’ll pick him up.’
I took a deep breath and punched Luan’s number into my phone. I was in a room in the police station but instead I lied that I was at my sister’s place.
‘I’ll be back later though, so I’ll meet you at home at 6pm,’ I told him. ‘Ok, see you then,’ Luan chimed before hanging up.
I turned to the police officer and said: ‘I’ve done it. He’ll be back at the flat at 6pm.’
‘Well done, you just stay here and relax. We’ll take it from here. We’ll call you when it’s finished,’ the police told me.
When Luan arrived at home as planned to talk things through, it wasn’t me waiting to greet him – it was the police.
I was mortified. I couldn’t believe Luan had lied about his status – and I couldn’t believe I’d been so foolish as to believe him.
By the time I arrived back at home, it was to see a police van being driven away. As I watched the tail lights fade into the distance, an officer told me: ‘We’ve got him now. He was in that van.’
It seemed so hollow – and I was still so angry and hurt. I was desperate for answers and so a couple of days later, I rang his sister, Antonetta, on Skype.
‘Just tell me the truth,’ I begged her. ‘I thought Luan was 25, that he came here to study and work – but it’s all lies.’
Antonetta’s face crumped when she admitted that Luan was 35 and in the UK illegally.
‘Is there anything else I should know?’ I demanded.
There was a long pause at the end of the line before she finally said: ‘Yes. He has… a wife.’
Her words hung in the air for what felt like an eternity. Luan is married? But he’d told me he wanted to marry me!
Antonetta said he didn’t have any children but I didn’t believe a word either of them told me any more.
‘I’m so sorry Zoe, I should have told you,’ she pleaded. She even arranged to wire me some of the money Luan had taken, but it wasn’t her debt to pay.
I never saw Luan again – and I didn’t want to. I hated him for what he put me through. I’d occasionally get the odd Facebook message from him, flitting between ‘you’ve ruined my life,’ to ‘please forgive me, I want my life back,’ but I wasn’t interested.
In October last year, at Cheltenham Magistrates Court, Luan pleaded guilty to theft and was deported.
I felt relieved, but hurt too. Luan had robbed more than just money from me – he’d stolen my heart too.