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Three Given Jail Sentences For Conning Dementia Sufferers in North Yorkshire and York

Ryan Lowe and Steven Wood 140213

4:15pm 14th February 2013
(Updated 4:39pm 14th February 2013)

Three members of the same family who swindled two elderly people with dementia out of tens of thousands of pounds have been given jail sentences following a major investigation by North Yorkshire County Council’s Trading Standards team.

In one case, Kathleen Gardner, an 84 year-old widow from Thornton-le-Dale was charged well in excess of £6,000 for a botched building repair which – even if it had been carried out competently – was valued at just £30.

In the second case, an 86-year-old widower 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 at all having been carried out.

Ryan Richard Lowe, aged 21, of Spring Lane, Bickerton, Wetherby, and Steven Richard Wood, aged 30, currently serving a three and a half year jail sentence for similar offences, pleaded guilty at a hearing in December to fraud and money-laundering. Wood was sentenced to four-and-a-half years and Lowe to three years imprisonment.

Mary Wilson, aged 29, of Cromer Street, York, pleaded guilty on Monday to money laundering.  She was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for two years.  A similar charge against a fourth family member -  Abigail Russell, aged 23, of Rockingham Avenue, York - was withdrawn after the prosecution offered no evidence.

North Yorkshire County Council’s Trading Standards team launched their investigation in November 2010, after being contacted by the nephew of the widow in Thornton on Dale.  The nephew, Michael Hall, reported that his aunt had phoned him in a very distressed and frightened state to say that there were men in her house demanding money for roofing work.  Subsequent checks on her bank account revealed that she had paid three cheques to Ryan Lowe totalling £5,590.  It was clear from her bank records that she had also withdrawn significant amounts of cash, out of character with her spending pattern, in the previous six months.  It is believed that money also went to the gang.

After the trial, Mr Hall said his aunt had not returned to her home since the day when she was confronted by the men.

“Overnight she lost everything that was dear to her – her home and garden, her friends and neighbours, her village and familiar environment,” he said.  “I feel desperately sad for the priceless loss she has suffered.”

Michael Hall, nephew of the Thornton-le-Dale victim told the court:

“My Aunt, Kit, loved her home in Thornton-le-Dale. She had some good friends and helpful neighbours and felt secure within her community. Before we became aware of this offending we had already contacted Health and Adult Services and her GP to express our concerns about her welfare. We had arranged a meeting with them to get support in place so that she could stay in her own home, despite her difficulties, because she was very happy there. We planned a gentle “letting go” of her responsibilities that she would feel comfortable with. All these plans came to nothing because of what happened in November 2010 when these men came into Kit’s home and threatened her."

kathleen gardener 140213

“Kit has never returned home since that day. Overnight, she lost everything that was dear to her – her home and garden, her friends and neighbours, her village and familiar environment. Despite her increasing difficulties, these things were the anchors in her life which, with support, would have enabled her to have a purpose in life and remain independent for a few more years and, possibly, for the rest of her days.

“These men had no conscience whatsoever towards Kit, and did not hesitate to take advantage of her age and poor memory, not just once, but as many times as they could. They viewed her as “fair game” and preyed on her mental confusion. There is no doubt in my mind that if she had not called us for help that day, they would have returned again and again to systematically empty her bank account and take her savings until she was left with nothing.”

“I feel bitterness, anger and contempt for the immoral way in which Kit was targeted and which has led to her situation today. 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.

“We are most grateful for the highly professional efforts of all the members of the investigating team from North Yorkshire Trading Standards in bringing these criminals to justice.  This has been a protracted enquiry in which the team have been relentless in tracing witnesses and those involved in this crime against Kit and other victims.  I cannot commend their efforts highly enough and our family thank them from the heart."

The trading standards team’s examination of one of the swindlers’ bank accounts uncovered evidence of the fraud perpetrated on the 88-year-old widower from Haxby.  Multiple cheques totalling in excess of £72,000 had been deposited into the offenders’ accounts.  When a professional surveyor and an arboriculturalist visited the man’s property, they could find no evidence of any building or gardening work having been carried out.

County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, Executive Member for North Yorkshire Trading Standards, commented: ”This case demonstrates once again the devastating impact this type of crime has on victims and their families, and the importance of the work done by trading standards in tackling such abhorrent offences.

“It also demonstrates the importance of community support for the elderly and the vulnerable, and the need to report suspicious activity to trading standards or the police immediately.  The sooner offenders can be stopped, the less money they can obtain from their innocent victims by fraud or theft.”

His Honour Bourne Arton QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough said that Wood had set about a determined targeting of vulnerable, infirm and elderly victims. He said both Lowe and Wood had “one motive, and one motive only, which was to act out of sheer greed”. He continued that they had given no thought to the misery and upset it would cause to those they were targeting in the latter days of their lives. In respect of Mrs Gardner, their offending had caused her to have to go into care prematurely.

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