Academic fell victim to roof gang

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AS a professor of theology who was educated at Oxford University, Elfride Bickersteth had a sharp intellect which was matched by a fierce independence.

She was an inspirational character who had continued to travel overseas to countries including Italy and Greece while in her 80s to pursue her love of the history of ancient civilisations.

But the grip of dementia was beginning to take hold when she was approached by a gang of rogue traders who were able to dupe her out of a five-figure sum of money for roofing work she did not even need to have done to her home in Cottingham, near Hull.

Dr Bickersteth, who taught at Hull University before her retirement, parted with £52,000 for roofing work between January 2008 and February the next year. The offenders were eventually brought to justice after cheques linked to her account were discovered in the largest ever investigation conducted by North Yorkshire County Council’s trading standards officers. Her niece, Ruth Toone, was on a family holiday in Scotland when she received a call on her mobile phone from officers to inform her they believed Dr Bickersteth had fallen victim to the scam.

Mother-of-two Mrs Toone, 52, of Aberford, near Leeds, said: “It was staggering, and the amounts of money involved were phenomenal. When we found out, it was just disbelief, and then there were the thoughts about how we had not been able to spot what was going on. But it proves that anyone can fall victim to these rogue traders.”

Dr Bickersteth’s health rapidly declined and she died aged 85 in January 2011, seven months before a family of travellers was convicted of a ruthlessly executed campaign which netted hundreds of thousands of pounds.

David Price and his relatives lived on a caravan site in Brigg, North Lincolnshire, but travelled across Yorkshire and beyond, convincing hundreds of vulnerable people to part with cash for gardening or roofing which was unnecessary and often left unfinished. Ringleader Price, 42, admitted conspiracy to defraud, theft and money laundering offences, and was jailed for seven years and eight months.