Police campaign targets bogus officials preying on vulnerable homes

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POLICE have launched a new campaign to stop distraction burglars targeting North Yorkshire’s elderly population and tricking their way into vulnerable remote homes.

The burglaries – where criminals trick their way into people’s homes by pretending to be from utility companies, councils, or the police – have proved to be a significant problem across Yorkshire over the past few years.

The road network, particularly in North Yorkshire where isolated communities are still relatively accessible to offenders with vehicles, means the burglaries are often being caused by criminals travelling into the area from other parts of the country.

Last year, a gang of distraction burglars from Middlesex were jailed for a total of 21 years after preying on elderly victims aged in their 70s, 80s and 90s while posing as police officers, in North Yorkshire, including Scarborough and York, and Boston Spa in West Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire Police has been rated fourth best in the country for its effectiveness in tackling offenders who prey on elderly and vulnerable victims, in the last annual report of the Operation Liberal National Distraction Burglary Intelligence Unit.

But with the number of over-65s in North Yorkshire predicted to rocket by 50 per cent, and number of over 85s by 65 per cent by 2020, there are fears that growing numbers of distraction burglars will target the county.

The campaign is spearheaded by Detective Chief Inspector Steve Smith, who led last year’s country-wide investigation into the three bogus police officers.

“A distraction burglary is one of the most cowardly crimes we have to deal with,” he said.

“Those who target vulnerable, older people who are both trusting and often frail, deserve and receive our fullest attention.

“Having investigated a series of such offences across the country, I have seen only too well, the effect it has on older people.

“They can become withdrawn, their health can deteriorate and in some very sad cases they never recover from their ordeal. Older people should be allowed to live in peace without suffering the distress which these people cause. It is beholden on all of us to take notice of those who come calling in these circumstances.

“The road system here lends itself to people coming in and getting out quickly.

“They rarely leave fingerprints behind at the scene as the nature of the offence means it is easy for them to get in.”

The campaign is centred around an internet video which has been funded by money raised from the sale of a vehicle owned by a gang of convicted distraction burglars.

The criminals’ cash has also funded supporting material to assist older and vulnerable people to keep unwanted callers at bay.

The film shows a reconstruction of a typical distraction burglary and the effect it has on the victim and her family.

“By taking some simple preventative measures, such as locking your doors and refusing entry to anyone who comes to your door who you don’t know, will help stop these criminals taking advantage,” Det Chief Insp Smith said.

“We want family members of older and vulnerable people to help them understand that it is not rude to refuse to let people into their homes.

“Encouraging them to get into the habit of always locking their doors and using a door chain or spy-hole is another simple way to prevent these offences”

The annual report of the Operation Liberal National Distraction Burglary Intelligence Unit for April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011 showed of the 46 crimes reported in the county, 18 cases were detected by North Yorkshire Police giving a detection rate of 39 per cent.

Northumbria Police topped the detection rate with 49 per cent (45 crimes, 22 detections) with Humberside Police having a 43 per cent detection rate (100 crimes, 43 detections).