Burglars who terrified victims jailed

A gang of three men stole at least £70,000 from more than 70 pensioners across the country, duping their way inside their victims’ homes by pretending to be police officers, in what is thought to be the biggest series of distraction burglaries ever seen in the UK.

James Connors, 18, his 20-year-old cousin, also called James Connors, and Jerry Cassidy, 30, stole from their elderly victims, one of whom was 99-years-old, in a three-month period, often carrying out up to six burglaries a day.

Once they took the £20,000 life savings of a pensioner, while on other occasions they left with as little as £5. The three men targeted elderly victims who were unable to fight back and whom they knew would have difficulty remembering what the men looked like. Only two of the 72 victims correctly identified the men when shown photographs by the police.

Five of the victims died following the burglaries, deaths brought on by stress resulting from their ordeal according to family members. While one had a heart attack after the men locked her in her own home.

After being charged the men pleaded guilty and yesterday were each sentenced to 10 years in prison at Winchester Crown Court. Judge Patrick Hooton said it was “as bad a series of burglaries as you can get” and added: “Words like appaling and hideous have been used by your own counsel but that does not even begin to describe what you have done.”

The Connors cousins and Cassidy, a family relative through marriage, were caught in Scotland in April 2008, after a police officer noticed their car being driven erratically.

The vehicle, an Audi RS6 they had stolen from a young mother in Middlesex, beating her in front of her child and taking the keys, was linked to the distraction burglaries of 13 pensioners in Hampshire and so the English force was called in.

After the men were charged with those 13, officers from Hampshire’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, linked them to a further four cases in the country and another 55 in the rest of England and Wales. Their offending took them to South Wales, Derbyshire and Cumbria among others. They also face separate charges in Scotland.

The method used by the trio was described by officers leading the investigation as “predatory”. They would drive high performance vehicles, always stolen and capable of outrunning police cars, along the motorway, stopping at random towns or cities along the M4 or M6.

Then they would look for signs that a house was home to elderly residents. Detective Sergeant Dan Hope, the officer in charge of the investigation, explained: “They would look for homes with net curtains, unkempt gardens or houses with handrails on the outside.

“They would target people late in life who were very vulnerable and who would stand little chance of fighting back or picking them out at an ID parade. They also knew that people of that generation are less likely to use banks than people nowadays and so there was a chance there would be a lot of cash in the house.

“They were also quite clever about where they went. They seemed to realise that if they hammered the one area they would be caught quicker than if they spread their offending across the country. They knew that officers from Cumbria, for example, would be unlikely to seek help from Hampshire police with regards to one robbery in their area.”

To get inside the houses the men would usually claim to be police officers or utility workers from the water, gas, or electricity board. Then they would threaten the pensioners, in some occasions with a small wooden truncheon, into handing over cash or jewellery.

They stole £43,000 in cash between February and April 2008. But, given that the youngest Connors cousin bought a £25,000 Volkswagen Golf with cash, and taking into account the value of various items of jewellery stolen, police say it is likely the men had been operating before they were caught and will have stolen at least £70,000 in total.

Det Sgt Hope added: “I am sure that there were more burglaries than the 72 we know about. There are probably three times as many.

“These were organised and sustained attacks on some of the most vulnerable members of our society. None of the property has been recovered and the value of what they took is incalculable. Items of tremendous sentimental value that span a number of generations were also taken and sadly have never been found.

“Their behaviour was violent and threatening. They displayed no sense of shame for what they did, and remained callous and unapologetic throughout.”

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape