Following the most complex investigation of its kind in North Yorkshire, members of an organised crime group were jailed for a total of 18 years today.
Teesside Crown Court heard how the gang of eight men defrauded elderly and vulnerable victims from across the North East and North Yorkshire for substandard and unnecessary roofing works undertaken at their homes.
The investigation was started by Operation Gauntlet, the multi-agency safeguarding team hosted at North Yorkshire County Council Trading Standards, in December 2016. This followed reports about an 89-year-old vulnerable man from the Richmond area being driven in the offender’s van to banks in Darlington on three occasions. The victim was asked to transfer a total of £17,000 to two bank accounts. A concerned member of the public, who was in the bank on the final occasion, overheard what the elderly man was telling the cashier and rang the police. The case was then passed to the Operation Gauntlet team.
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. This man died in August 2017, before the conclusion of the investigation.
Further enquiries using the phone data and fingerprint results identified a number of additional offenders, including:
- George Henry Queen Flannigan, 25, of Stirling Road, Milnathort, Scotland, subsequently arrested in September 2017.
- William Stewart, 23, of Holmelea Travellers’ Site, Elvington, York, subsequently arrested in September 2017.
- Shaun Doyle, 33, of Claremont Road, Darlington, who attended for interview in October 2017 after arrest attempts had failed.
- Mark Genery, 39, of Tithe Barn Road, Stockton, arrested in May 2017, and
- Graham Thom, 27, of Forglen Crescent, Turriff, Scotland, interviewed in prison in Scotland in December 2017.
Additional victims were also identified in York and Rowlands Gill, Newcastle. These were:
- a 77-year-old 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 where attempts to defraud him for works to his roof in December 2016 were prevented by neighbours reporting the offenders to the police.
The final offender, Paul Masterton, 67, of Walnut Place, Newcastle, father of James Masterton, was charged with forgery after attending voluntarily for interview in August 2017. This was in relation to forged documents he created relating to the offending vehicle used to transport the Richmond victim to the bank. He created the documents to mislead the investigation regarding the Mastertons’ involvement with the sale of the vehicle and the identity of the co-suspects, with whom they were associates.
Andrew Hardy pleaded guilty to six counts of money laundering in May 2018 and William Stewart entered a guilty plea for conspiracy to defraud four days prior to the trial. Following the start of the trial on 15 October at Teesside Crown Court, Hardy, Genery, Thom, Flannigan and Doyle all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud. James Masterton pleaded guilty to money laundering and his father Paul Masterton pleaded guilty to forgery.
The eight men were sentenced at Teesside Crown Court today by His Honour Judge Morris and received the following sentences:
James Masterton – 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 – 3 years 3 months
- George Flannigan – 3 years 11 months
- William Stewart – 2 years 9 months
- Shaun Doyle – 3 years 5 months (to add to his existing 4 and a half years to give a total of 7 years 11 months)
- Mark Genery – 2 years 9 months
- Graham Thom – 1 year 11 months
- Paul Masterton – 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.
Doyle and Flannigan were also given indefinite Criminal Behaviour Orders to prevent them conducting work at residential premises for those aged 60 and over, and not to cold call.
Doyle and Flannigan have previous convictions relating to similar offending and were both already serving custodial sentences in relation to that offending. Genery, Hardy and Thom were already on remand after failing to appear at earlier hearings and bail dates for the case.
Sentencing the men, His Honour Judge Morris described the offences as “disgraceful” and in sentencing Doyle said: “This was a well-planned, well-organised fraud that set out to fleece elderly people of their savings. You were one of, if not the, main player. I’ve seen the victims and the impact it has had upon them. They are people in the late evenings of their lives, who are easily confused. It is quite clear there was deliberate targeting of them because they were very vulnerability, frail, fearful, forgetful, and over-trusting. That is why to you targeted them.
“You are a very unpleasant offender who has no conscience about fleecing elderly victims.”
The judge also commended officers from the Operation Gauntlet team. He said: “The investigation was a thorough and professional investigation. I commend the officers for bringing to book this gang. Public expenditure has been saved because it was so well investigated and presented. It left them nowhere to go. They deserve the thanks of the court and they have my personal thanks.”
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. ”
He added: “I am very grateful for what Trading Standards have done. I never thought about taking action initially as I wouldn’t have even thought about how I was going to try and find these people. I’m extremely happy with North Yorkshire Trading Standards’ involvement.”
A video interview with the Richmond victim was played to the court, in which he said: “I have found that the financial loss of hard-earned money has had an emotional effect on me. I feel that this should not have happened to me, but it did. Do you blame yourself or have you fallen into the hands of a very clever, organised gang? I totally resent the treatment meted out to me when one, the leader, on leaving said to me ‘I hope that we have left you with enough to get by on?’ These people should be caught and taught a lesson.”
In relation to the investigation and prosecution by trading standards he added: “They had very little to go by to set off on. Trading Standards worked diligently from nothing and they’ve pulled off a good job.”
Speaking after the case, Councillor Andrew Lee, Executive Member for Growth, Planning and 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. That has been rightly reflected in the sentences handed out today.
“In North Yorkshire, our multi-agency partnership approach leads the way nationally in tackling doorstep crime head on and we will not relent. This has been the most complex investigation we have ever undertaken, but we were determined to get justice for these victims and I would like to thank North Yorkshire Police for their support in this investigation. We will now pursue the offenders under the Proceeds of Crime Act to compensate the victims.
“I would also remind everyone not to deal with doorstep callers. Please report any incidents or concerns to us or the police immediately. We can and we will act on any information received.”
Today’s sentencing brings the achievements of the multiagency Operation Gauntlet team to:
- 43 convictions in the past two and a half years.
- A total of 84 years and eight months of imprisonment for those receiving a custodial sentence.
The team tackles all forms of fraud against vulnerable adults and is based on a multi-agency approach to provide the most effective means of dealing with such crimes and safeguarding of the vulnerable victims.
A Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation case will now take place in relation to William Stewart, George Flannigan and Shaun Doyle, to remove their assets obtained from crime.
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.