Three members of the same family who swindled two elderly people with dementia out of tens of thousands of pounds have been given jail sentences following a major investigation by North Yorkshire County Council’s Trading Standards team.
In one case, Kathleen Gardner, an 84 year-old widow from Thornton-le-Dale was charged well in excess of £6,000 for a botched building repair which – even if it had been carried out competently – was valued at just £30.
In the second case, an 86-year-old widower from Haxby, near York, was defrauded of at least £72,000 for “building and gardening” work. When his home was examined by an expert surveyor and an arboriculturalist, no evidence could be found of any work at all having been carried out.
Ryan Richard Lowe, aged 21, of Spring Lane, Bickerton, Wetherby, and Steven Richard Wood, aged 30, currently serving a three and a half year jail sentence for similar offences, pleaded guilty at a hearing in December to fraud and money-laundering. Wood was sentenced to four-and-a-half years and Lowe to three years imprisonment.
Mary Wilson, aged 29, of Cromer Street, York, pleaded guilty on Monday to money laundering. She was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for two years. A similar charge against a fourth family member – Abigail Russell, aged 23, of Rockingham Avenue, York – was withdrawn after the prosecution offered no evidence.
North Yorkshire County Council’s Trading Standards team launched their investigation in November 2010, after being contacted by the nephew of the widow in Thornton on Dale. The nephew, Michael Hall, reported that his aunt had phoned him in a very distressed and frightened state to say that there were men in her house demanding money for roofing work. Subsequent checks on her bank account revealed that she had paid three cheques to Ryan Lowe totalling £5,590. It was clear from her bank records that she had also withdrawn significant amounts of cash, out of character with her spending pattern, in the previous six months. It is believed that money also went to the gang.
After the trial, Mr Hall said his aunt had not returned to her home since the day when she was confronted by the men:
Overnight she lost everything that was dear to her – her home and garden, her friends and neighbours, her village and familiar environment.
I feel desperately sad for the priceless loss she has suffered.
The trading standards team’s examination of one of the swindlers’ bank accounts uncovered evidence of the fraud perpetrated on the 88-year-old widower from Haxby. Multiple cheques totalling in excess of £72,000 had been deposited into the offenders’ accounts. When a professional surveyor and an arboriculturalist visited the man’s property, they could find no evidence of any building or gardening work having been carried out.
County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, Executive Member for North Yorkshire Trading Standards, commented:
This case demonstrates once again the devastating impact this type of crime has on victims and their families, and the importance of the work done by trading standards in tackling such abhorrent offences.
It also demonstrates the importance of community support for the elderly and the vulnerable, and the need to report suspicious activity to trading standards or the police immediately. The sooner offenders can be stopped, the less money they can obtain from their innocent victims by fraud or theft.
His Honour Bourne Arton QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough said that Wood had set about a determined targeting of vulnerable, infirm and elderly victims. He said both Lowe and Wood had “one motive, and one motive only, which was to act out of sheer greed”. He continued that they had given no thought to the misery and upset it would cause to those they were targeting in the latter days of their lives. In respect of Mrs Gardner, their offending had caused her to have to go into care prematurely.