The investigation into the extensive fraud scam began after a member of the public overheard one of the victims, an 89-year-old man from Richmond, speaking to a bank cashier, and called police.
He had been driven in the offenders’s vans to three Darlington banks and made to transfer a total of £17,000 to two bank accounts in December 2016.
Police then passed the case to Operation Guantlet, the multi-agency safeguarding team hosted at North Yorkshire County Council Trading Standards, which began its “most complex investigation” ever.
Teesside Crown Court heard yesterday how the gang of eight men defrauded elderly and vulnerable victims from across North Yorkshire and the North East and for substandard and unnecessary roofing works undertaken at their homes.
An expert surveyor who examined the man’s roof on behalf of trading standards valued works to the property at just £600, including £400 for scaffold hire. He concluded: “The work is unfit for purpose, displaying a lack of skill and expertise of those responsible, who have then embarked upon a significant overcharge to the householder for this unnecessary, incomplete and inadequate work.”
The initial arrests in December 2016 and February 2017 were of the two men who had laundered the proceeds of the offending by receiving transfers from the elderly male into their bank accounts. They were James Masterton, 35, of Walnut Place, Newcastle, and Andrew Hardy, 32, of no fixed address. Both failed to name who was responsible for the alleged roofing in interviews following their arrests.
As a result, extensive enquiries were made using automatic number plat recognition (ANPR) data relating to the offending vehicle and mobile phone numbers associated with Masterton and Hardy. Enquiries made into Hardy’s bank account revealed the identity of two further elderly and vulnerable victims - a 75-year-old man from Thornaby, who paid £18,500 for works to his roof in December 2016, and a 73-year-old man from Pocklington, who paid £10,700 for roofing works at his property in November and December 2016. He died in August 2017, before the conclusion of the investigation.
Investigators used phone date and fingerprint results to identify a number of additional offenders, and two further victims, a 77-year-old York man who paid £9,500 for works to his roof in July 2016, with attempts to defraud him of a further £9,500; and a 91-year-old man from Newcastle whose neighbours prevented him from being scammed and reported the incident to police.
Masterton was yesterday given a 12-month community order and made to pay the Richmond victim £1,000 compensation after pleading guilty to money laundering. His father Paul Masterton, 67, of Walnut Place, Newcastle, received the same sentence after pleading guilty to forgery.
Hardy was jailed for three years and three months, and five other men were jailed from between one year and 11 months and three years 11 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud.
Sentencing, Judge Morris described the offences as “disgraceful” and that it was a “well-planned, well-organised fraud that set out to fleece elderly people of their savings”.
The Thornaby victim told the court in a victim personal statement: “My first overall feeling is one of, I feel like I’ve been gullible and I’m disappointed in myself for letting this happen. They were happy to rip me off, they were so careless in what they did on my roof and I even had to pay for the damage they caused on my neighbour’s roof. The predominant feeling of anger comes to mind.”
Speaking after the case, Coun Andrew Lee, North Yorkshire’s executive member for Trading Standards, said: “This case is another disgraceful example of the lengths organised crime groups will go to when deliberately and repeatedly targeting the most vulnerable members of our communities. Elderly people who have worked hard all their lives are entitled to a safe, peaceful and comfortable life in their retirement. No-one has the right to defraud them of their life savings and make them feel unsafe in their own homes.”
Reports to trading standards can be made via the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06 and to the police on 101 or on 999 in urgent situations.
The full details of the gang members and their sentences are:
James Masterton, 35, of Walnut Place, Newcastle: 12-month community order, with an order to do 250 hour unpaid work, and made subject to a curfew between 6pm and 6am for six months, with electronic tags. Also ordered to pay the Richmond victim £1,000 by way of compensation.
Andrew Hardy, 32, of no fixed address: Jailed for three years three months
George Henry Queen Flannigan, 25, of Stirling Road, Milnathort, Scotland: Jailed for three years 11 months
William Stewart, 23, of Holmelea Travellers’ Site, Elvington, York: Jailed for two years nine months
Shaun Doyle, 33, of Claremont Road, Darlington: Jailed for three years five months (to add to his existing four and a half years custodial sentence to give a total of seven years 11 months)
Mark Genery, 39, of Tithe Barn Road, Stockton: Jailed for two years nine months
Graham Thom, 27, of Forglen Crescent, Turriff, Scotland: Jailed for one year 11 months
Paul Masterton, 67, of Walnut Place, Newcastle: 12-month community order, with an order to do 250 hour unpaid work, and made subject to a curfew between 6pm and 6am for six months, with electronic tags. Also ordered to pay the Richmond victim £1,000 by way of compensation.