Travellers Steven Wood, 30, and his brother-in-law Ryan Lowe, 21, were both sentenced yesterday for exploiting their vulnerable victims through “sheer greed”.
They repeatedly demanded money from Kathleen “Kit” Gardner, 84, and Peter Rothwell, 86, and defrauded the pensioners out of nearly £80,000.
In one instance, Mrs Gardner, a widow from Thornton-le-Dale, was charged more than £6,000 for a botched building repair which – even if it had been carried out competently – was valued at just £30.
Mr Rothwell, 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 being carried out.
The full extent of the campaign against the elderly only emerged when Mrs Gardner stood up to her tormentors, her family revealed outside court.
Nephew Michael Hall said his aunt had a clock on her mantelpiece which she treasured as it had been given to her by her late husband, Aubrey. Their marriage was cut tragically short when he died of a heart attack only a year after their wedding a quarter of a century ago.
When the men threatened to take the clock unless she wrote them another cheque she was so alarmed she called Mr Hall, who was 200 miles away in St Albans.
Mr Hall, 64, an Assistant Investigator for Hertfordshire Police, alerted colleagues in North Yorkshire. North Yorkshire County Council’s trading standards officers were then informed and launched an investigation in 2010 which discovered cheques from both pensioners had been paid into the defendants’ bank accounts.
Speaking outside court, Mr Hall said his aunt and other elderly victims had been robbed of their last few years of independent living as they had ended up in care homes.
“I feel bitterness, anger and contempt for the immoral way in which Kit was targeted and which has led to her situation today,” he added. “I feel desperately sad for the priceless loss she has suffered because of what these men did. They may not have physically harmed her, but they certainly took away her life, and that is unforgiveable.”
Teesside Crown Court heard yesterday Wood, of Pool Road, Otley, was last year sentenced to three-and-a-half-years for exploiting three vulnerable pensioners in West Yorkshire.
He was given four-and-a-half years yesterday after pleading guilty to six fraud and money laundering offences.
The Recorder of Middlesbrough, Simon Bourne-Arton, claimed Lowe and Wood had “one motive, and one motive only, which was to act out of sheer greed”.
Lowe, of Spring Lane, Bickerton, Wetherby, admitted 13 fraud and money laundering offences. Jailing him for three years, the judge told him it would have a four-year term if it was not for his early guilty plea and previous good character.
Wood’s partner, Mary Wilson, 29, of Cromer Street, York, pleaded guilty on Monday to money laundering. She was sentenced to four months in jail, suspended for two years. A similar charge against a fourth family member, Abigail Russell, 23, of Rockingham Avenue, York, was withdrawn after the prosecution offered no evidence.
The county council’s head of fraud and financial investigations, Ruth Andrews, said: “Victims such as this have a right to live their last years in comfort and security and not to be targeted by abhorrent defendants such as these.”