The scam was identified following a proactive operation by the Met’s London Crime Squad in conjunction with Trading Standards Regional Fraud Unit (Scambusters).
The defendants all pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by false representation when they appeared at the court during an earlier hearing on 20 August 2010 and were sentenced today as follows:
Peter Gilheney, aged 27, of Bellflower Path, Romford, was sentenced to a total of seven years imprisonment;
Patrick O’Driscoll, aged 36, of Brookes Place, Barnet Road, Potters Bar, was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment;
James Casey, aged 30, of Brookes Place, Barnet Road, Potters Bar, was sentenced to two years imprisonment
and Francis Dunne, aged 24, of Bashley Road, London, NW10, was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment.
They were arrested in April 2010 by officers from the Met’s London Crime Squad who had carried out an undercover investigation after receiving intelligence that the gang were targeting the homes of elderly vulnerable people, falsely claiming that they required urgent and expensive repair work to their properties.
During the investigation, two offences were identified leading to their arrests:
On 3 December 2009, a vulnerable 79-year-old woman received a telephone call from a man who said he was working in the local area and had noticed a problem with her guttering. During the conversation it was agreed that he would attend the address. Four days later a man turned up at her home in Dawes Road, London, SW6, and told the occupant that work was required to her guttering and fascia boards and a second inspection was arranged for the next day; then all four of the defendants attended the address. Gilheney and Dunne climbed on to the roof and Dunne was seen to cause damage to the guttering and brick work. The occupant was told that the parapet wall was in a dangerous state and that masonry could fall into the street and kill someone.
The victim was told the repair work would cost up to £10,000 and persuaded to pay £5,000 on the same day, but she was only able to obtain £2,000 in funds that day, which she paid to O’Driscoll.
As part of the investigation, a chartered surveyor visited the property and said that the damage could only have been caused deliberately and not by normal weathering or wear and tear. In addition, he said the work required would cost in the region of £3,000, considerably lower than she had been quoted.
The gang had attempted a similar scam on 2 December 2009 when they attended an address belonging to a vulnerable 63-year-old man in Queens Park Road, Harold Wood. They asked the occupant if he would like his drive way re-laid. When he declined, they were extremely persistent and in order to make them leave, the owner agreed to an appointment two days later. On that day, the four defendants returned and O’Driscoll attempted to persuade the occupant to have an external wall damp survey completed. O’Driscoll told him it was a legal requirement and if he did not have the work done his boss would take legal action against him.
Once again, during the investigation a chartered surveyor examined the property and said there was nothing to suggest the work needed doing. He also stated that he was not aware of any legal requirement requiring a damp proof course.
DI John Cracknell, from the London Crime Squad (North), said: "These sentences show that preying on vulnerable members of the community will not be tolerated by the MPS. The London Crime Squad will continue to disrupt criminal networks through intelligence-led policing operations."
John Peerless, Project Manager for SCAMBUSTERS said: "This is an excellent example of joint working. My team were formed to tackle these types of crime, primarily supporting Local Authority Trading Standards Services but because of the overlap in responsibilities have formed extensive relationships with the police. These sentences send out a strong message to the doorstep criminal that the targeting of vulnerable people in their own homes will not be tolerated."