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Fraudsters jailed after conning two elderly people out of thousands of pounds
TWO callous conmen have been jailed for shocking crimes that ended with two pensioners having to go into care.
Ryan Richard Lowe, 21, and Steven Richard Wood, 30, defrauded two victims in Thornton-le-Dale and Haxby of their savings as part of a four-year family campaign against the elderly and vulnerable, Teesside Crown Court heard.
One of their victims, 84-year-old widow Kathleen Gardner, was charged more than £6,000 for a botched building repair which, even if it had been done properly, should have cost only £30.
Another victim, an 86-year-old widower from Haxby, was charged at least £72,000 for building and gardening work, but experts could find no evidence of any work having been carried out.
Both victims were suffering from dementia.
Lowe was yesterday jailed for three years and his brother-in-law Wood, who is already in prison for similar offences, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years.
Between them, the pair targeted pensioners with dementia and repeatedly got them to write cheques totalling tens of thousands of pounds to their own and their relatives’ bank accounts, Richard Bennett, prosecuting for North Yorkshire trading standards, told the court.
When the Haxby victim’s bank grew suspicious, the pair persuaded him to write out cheques to cash.
Sentencing Lowe and Wood, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC, told them their only motive was “sheer greed” and said they had no thought or care for the consequences of their crimes.
He said: “You gave no thought as to the impact your offending may have on the declining days of those you targeted, no thought at all to the misery you were going to cause to those victims in the latter part of their lives. What you did was to bleed these victims of whatever little money they had left.”
The crimes against Mrs Gardner, of Thornton-le-Dale near Pickering, had such an effect that she had to go prematurely into a care home.
The court heard the Haxby man is also now in a care home.
Lowe, of Bickerton near Wetherby, admitted 13 frauds and money laundering offences committed against both victims. Wood, of no fixed address, who is already serving three and a half years for similar crimes between 2008 and 2010 in West Yorkshire, was jailed for four and a half years for six fraud and money laundering offences against the Haxby man.
Mr Bennett said Lowe identified the victims, a claim disputed by his barrister Scott Smith. Both victims lived alone. In 2010 and 2011, the conmen grossly overcharged for work that was never done.
Despite Mrs Gardner’s neighbours raising the alarm about rogue traders at her home and her local postmistress and a staff member at the Haxby man’s bank raising concerns about the cheques going out of the victims’ accounts, the conmen repeatedly returned to their houses to get more and more money out of them.
On arrest, Lowe claimed he was a labourer who worked for Wood and didn’t ask questions about cheques given to him. Wood claimed he was a roofer who ran a company with Lowe and they got work by cold calling.
For Lowe, Scott Smith said he had no previous convictions and was only 18 and 19 at the time of the offences. He was not the “controlling mind” behind them. He had shown his remorse by his guilty plea. He disputed the judge’s statement the pair were part of a conspiracy involving more than the defendants.
For Wood, Steven Crossley said he wanted to be a car mechanic and go straight on his release from prison. He was finding it hard being separated from his three children.
Widow forced to leave her home
THE conmen who targeted elderly widow Kathleen Gardner have robbed her of the life she loved, her nephew has said.
Michael Hall said he had never heard his 84-year-old aunt so terrified as the day she rang him because men were in her house threatening her and trying to take the antique clock she loved.
The offences by Ryan Lowe, now 21, and others, so traumatised her that the family immediately found her alternative accommodation with the help of North Yorkshire social services and later moved her to a care home near her family in Hertfordshire.
Mrs Gardner, known as Kit, had lived in the Thornton-le-Dale area for 20 years.
Mr Hall said: “She considered herself to be an honorary Yorkshirewoman.
“She had loved her life here. Overnight, she lost everything that was dear to her - her home and garden, her friends and neighbours, her village and family environment.”
Mrs Gardner was involved in the local community and her family had already started putting in place the support she needed to continue to live there.
But then the “despicable” conmen had “robbed” her of that, said Mr Hall.
“When she was in care, she would say, ‘when are we going home. Why am I here?’”
Mr Hall, 69, a police assistant investigator, said that when he got his aunt’s call, he asked to speak to the men threatening her, but they refused.
“She was in a panic. I have never heard her speaking like that before.”
Eventually the men left and he told her to lock herself in.
His first concern was her safety and after arranging that, he used the power of attorney she had given him to check his bank accounts and realised what had happened.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if she had not called us for help that day, they would have returned again and again to systematically empty her bank account and take her savings until she was left with nothing.”
300 a year victims of doorstep fraud
THREE hundred vulnerable people a year are targeted by conmen in North Yorkshire, the head of the county council’s fraud and financial investigation squad has revealed.
Ruth Andrews called on banks, shops and local communities to help protect vulnerable people such as the pensioners defrauded by Ryan Lowe and Steven Wood.
A bank worker prevented one of their crimes by raising the alarm and the bank stopped further cheques.
In Kathleen Gardner’s case, neighbours and a local postmistress raised concerns and her family were already talking to social services when she was threatened in her own home.
The county council investigates on average 80 cases a year of conmen extorting money from elderly people and believes only 14 to 18 per cent of such cases are reported.
Mrs Andrews said: “We need the support of people working in banks and shops and others in the community to protect the vulnerable. Victims such as these have the right to live their last years in comfort and security and not to be targeted by such abhorrent beings as these.”
Coun Chris Metcalfe, executive member for North Yorkshire trading standards, said. “The sooner offenders can be stopped, the less money they can obtain from their innocent victims by fraud or theft.”
North Yorkshire County Council has banned cold calling in areas where it has caused problems.
Judith Gregory, Alzheimer’s Society area manager, said 15 per cent of people with dementia had been the victims of doorstep conmen and other financial crimes, but could be protected.
The society works with the councils against scams and doorstep selling to people with dementia.