APPALLING CRIMES; Elderly Preyed on by Twisted Pair

Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), February 26, 2010 | Go to article overview

APPALLING CRIMES; Elderly Preyed on by Twisted Pair


Byline: SOPHIE DOUGHTY

THEY preyed on the most vulnerable to bankroll their drugs habits.

But today, burglars Derek Howe and John McLaughlan, who conned their way into the homes of more than 21 elderly and frail pensioners across Tyne and Wear and County Durham, are finally behind bars.

The twisted pair identified their victims carefully, thinking they would never be caught.

They chose to steal from the homes of pensioners or those lonely enough to let them into their homes.

All were too frail to put up a fight or grab them if they became suspicious.

They knew their victims, some disabled and some suffering from dementia, who were all aged between 70 and 96 some of whom would find it difficult to give police accurate descriptions of them or the cars they used for their getaways.

And the pair were aware they were targeting members of a generation, who are used to leaving their front doors unlocked, and sometimes keep their life savings under a mattress or stashed in a bedroom drawer. But Howe and McLaughlan's crime spree, in which they targeted homes in Newcastle, Gateshead, Chester-le-Street, East Boldon, Washington, Jarrow, and Hebburn, throughout June and July, was brought to an end thanks to a specialist police operation targeting bogus callers.

And the pair have now both been jailed for eight years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary. Det Sgt Gary Attewell, of Northumbria Police, investigated the crimes as part of Operation Bombay which probes distraction burglaries across Northumbria, Durham and Teesside, today welcomed the sentences.

He said: "We see distraction burglary as an heinous offence and hope this sentence will act as a good deterrent to anyone considering committing offences against elderly people."

Crack addict Howe, 40, of Quarry Bank Court, and McLaughlan, 36, of Durham Street, both in Elswick, Newcastle, used a tried and tested method to con their way into their victims' homes.

After identifying properties likely to be occupied by old people they would sweet talk their way inside and while one would distract the householder the other ransacked the property for cash and valuables.

Tim Gittins, prosecuting at Newcastle Crown Court, said: "They and one or two others teamed-up to target vulnerable old aged pensioners in and around their homes in Newcastle and Durham.

"They used a ruse to get into a house and while the householder was concentrating on one of the excuses they made the other looked around for anything they could steal, either cash or small valuables. …

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