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29 April 2015, 13:08
Twelve men have been sentenced for a £780,000 fraud that started with unnecessary repairs to a Watford man's roof.
The complex investigation was led by Hertfordshire Constabulary's specialist unit Operation Manhunt, who investigate distraction burglary and large scale rogue trading frauds.
In August 2011, the victim, a 68 year old man from Watford, was initially approached by two men who insisted that his roof was in desperate need of attention and indicated they could carry-out minor repairs (replacement of loose tiles) for a small fee.
In the months that followed, the two men, who were initially employed to carry-out the works, sabotaged the victim's roof and went about carrying-out a series of major unauthorised 'repairs' to both the roof and other parts of the property. The works continued until January 2012, by which point the victim had been ordered to pay £98,000 and serious damage had been caused to his property.
Following this, he was approached by another man who told him he'd carry out further repairs, which were also completely unnecessary.
By the middle of 2012 another man approached the victim, and told him he worked for HMRC and was investigating fraudulent work carried out on his home and promised to recover his money, but only after he paid a further £39,000 in unpaid taxes. Fearful of prosecution and acting in the belief that the man was who he purported to be, the victim paid the money.
Over the following months he was asked to pay more money to the bogus 'HMRC official' in cash through a series of 'couriers' who were sent to his property. The demands for money became more threatening and the victim was told he faced a long prison sentence if he failed to pay the unpaid taxes.
The team in Operation Manhunt began investigating in February 2013 when a friend of the victim raised their concerns with police. Detectives and specialist liaison officers worked with the victim to understand the full extent of the crimes against him.
Detective Constable Kelly Gray, the officer in the case said: "Initially the victim didn't believe he had been a victim of a crime, so we had to work very closely with him to make him understand what had happened to him.
"It may seem unbelievable to anyone hearing about this case that someone could find themselves in this situation. The victim is a well-educated, retired professional man who has, over a period of time, been continually worn down by these men and fed a series of lies. They were extremely convincing in their manner and told him his roof would fall down if he didn't have the work carried out.
"The victim ended up having to re-mortgage his house to pay them off and in total we believe he handed over up to £775,000 to these men and by the time we intervened, he was struggling to make ends meet.
"This was an extremely long and complex case, which involved carefully working with the victim, piecing together evidence to uncover the web of people who had been involved and bringing about charges so they could face justice. The victim was very brave in giving evidence and I thank him for showing such courage at court.
"I am pleased with the sentences and hope that the victim can now feel he is able to live in his own home safely, without the threat of them returning."
In total, 15 men were arrested and charged during the course of the investigation. Two trials took place in March.
The majority were sentenced at St Albans Crown Court on Friday (April 10).
" James O'Brien, aged 49 and of Croxley View, Watford was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud. He and his brother Michael approached the victim first and started the work on his roof. He was sentenced to five years.
" Michael O'Brien, aged 37 and of Russells Rude, Cheshunt, pleaded guilty half way through his trial to conspiracy to commit fraud. He was sentenced to five and a half years.
" Nathan Newman, aged 33 and of Twyn Carmel, Merthyr Tydfil, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud. He carried out work on the house, and was friends with James O'Brien. He was sentenced to three and a half years.
" Patrick Joseph O'Driscoll, aged 34 and of Purkiss Road, Hertford, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud. When the victim's roof became unstable, Michael O'Brien contacted Patrick who became involved in the second stage of the fraud. He was sentenced to five years.
" Patrick's brother, Darren O'Driscoll, aged 21 and of Purkiss Road, Hertford was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud. He was involved in collecting money from the victim and was described as Patrick's right hand man. He was sentenced to five years.
" Arthur Smith, aged 73 and of Croxley View, Watford, pleaded guilty to money laundering. He was paid to put the victim's cheques into his account and then withdraw the cash. He was sentenced at an earlier hearing to a 9 month sentence, suspended for 12 months.
" Alfred Strutton, aged 75 and of London Road, Halesworth, Suffolk, pleaded guilty to money laundering. He also paid money into his account. He was sentenced at an earlier hearing to 12 months, suspended for 12 months.
" Joseph Walton, aged 71 and of Bassett Road, London, also pleaded guilty to money laundering. He was sentenced to 9 months, suspended for two years.
" Robert Lee Norris, aged 27 and of Calvert House, White City, London, also pleaded guilty to money laundering. He was sentenced at an earlier hearing to a 12 month sentence, suspended for 2 years.
" Terry Connor, aged 46 and of Australia Road, London, also pleaded guilty to money laundering. He was sentenced at an earlier hearing to 22 months suspended for 2 years. Conner's bank account was frozen by the bank, so he met with the victim and took him to the bank so the victim could explain that the money was given to him legitimately, enabling him to access the account again.
" Terry Halford, aged 54 and of Lannoy Place, Pellant Road, London, pleaded guilty to money laundering. He also had his bank account frozen and went with the victim to the bank. He was sentenced to 15 months suspended for two years.
" James O'Brien, aged 51 and of Hagden Lane, Watford, pleaded guilty to money laundering. He was sentenced to 12 months.
Paul Watkins, aged 37 and of Rowan Drive, Broxbourne was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud but found not guilty at trial.
John Tayo Wesley, aged 39 and of Fitzneil Street, London, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation and money laundering. He is awaiting sentence.
Another man was released with no further action taken against him.
Detective Inspector Ben Wright, who leads Operation Manhunt said: "This is one of the most complex investigations the Operation Manhunt team has worked on and it is testament to their dedication that we have seen so many convicted.
"The full extent of their criminality was explored and I hope these outcomes act as a deterrent to others. We will explore every avenue, no matter what role you play in the crime, whether you are a major player in coercing the victim or if you are involved in the laundering of the money. We won't stop until we unearth everyone who plays a part and you will all be dealt with.
"We are using Proceeds of Crime Legislation to restrain the assets they gained from this crime and will do all in our power to get back the money taken and return it to the victim. This is a parallel investigation which will be on-going for some time."