Burglar with 589 offences is jailed for seven years

One of Britain's most prolific burglars, whose 18-month crime spree astounded detectives, was jailed for seven years yesterday. Martin Maloney, 22, admitted two burglaries and asked for 587 other offences to be considered.

He tricked his way into the homes of pensioners across the country, posing as a plain-clothes police officer, flashing fake ID and telling victims – some in their nineties – that he was investigating a crime, before taking cash and valuables. He raided up to six houses a day, sometimes returning months later to steal from them a second time.

He stole a total of £266,930, but only £1,040 had been recovered, Harrow Crown Court was told. His largest haul was £12,730. Police believe he spent it all on drugs and alcohol.

Judge Sich told Maloney: "You are a menace to elderly people in sheltered accommodation." His behaviour had left "numerous, vulnerable victims" in its wake, most of whom would have been left "insecure and traumatised" by their ordeal.

Don Rogers, for the prosecution, said the number of burglaries in the London area led to a nationwide hunt known as Operation Oakley. His offences totalled 429 in London, with 160 in Essex, Hertfordshire, Thames Valley, West Midlands, Avon and Somerset, Derbyshire, Devon and Cornwall, West Mercia, Gloucestershire, Kent and Wiltshire.

Mark Ruffell, in mitigation, said Maloney, from Kentish Town, north London, had been driven to crime by a disturbed childhood, witnessing violence, suffering abuse and being abandoned to "live by his wits" at the age of 11. He said Maloney was a person in need of "love and attention". That desire was almost certainly what lay behind the offences.

Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "It beggars belief that for each of these burglaries – where the maximum penalty is 14 years – he will serve no more than four days. I'm absolutely astonished. The criminal justice system has truly lost its way and this case clearly highlights how completely out of touch the judiciary are. One burglary would not have been acceptable, so why are 600 dealt with so leniently?"

Rita Streader, whose mother-in-law, Helen Streader, 87, was preyed on by Maloney, said: "He should have got double what he was given."

Detective Inspector Keith Surtees, of Scotland Yard, said after the case: "We have heard some reasons why he offended but really I think the most important issue is that we have got 589 victims who are still suffering from this man's activity and will continue to suffer for a long time to come."

With remission for good behaviour, Maloney will be freed two thirds of the way through his sentence. Clifford Whitaker, 21, one of Maloney's accomplices, has been jailed for three and a half years.