Traveller gang conned thousands from Gwent OAPs
A GANG of men who preyed on elderly people and conned them out of thousands of pounds was jailed for a total of 11-and-a-half years.
A 92-year-old widower in Cwmbran was conned out of £5,000 and another man, 82, who also lived in Cwmbran, had around £14,000 swindled from him.
Prosecutor Andrew Morse told Newport Crown Court that Wayne Smith, 30, and Barney Cummins, 34, would be given phone numbers obtained from elderly people by knocking on their doors and discussing repairs on underground pipes before subjecting them to high-pressure calls about the non-existent repair work.
Llewellyn Smith, 39, of King Street, Pontypool, was employed to act as a collector and retrieved money after the pensioners had been duped.
The court heard £3,000 swindled from the 82-year-old was paid into the bank account of James Smith, 33, of Pretoria Terrace, Tredegar, who then withdrew it.
Llewellyn and James Smith, who are brothers, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud on the basis they were only involved for one day in April 2012.
Llewellyn Smith said he played no further part in the fraud and did not know the full extent of the conspiracy.
James Smith admitted withdrawing the cash from his bank account, knew it was dishonest, but did not know where the money came from.
At an earlier hearing, Wayne Smith of Ivy Hatch Residential Site, Green Lane, Redhill, Surrey, and Barney Cummins, of Pilgrim’s Lane, Thurrock, Essex, both pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud.
James and Llewellyn Smith were only involved in the fraud in Cwmbran, whereas the other two also had victims in London and Hertfordshire.
Wayne Smith was jailed for five years, Cummins for four years, James Smith was given 14 months and Llewellyn Smith got a 12-month sentence. Because of time already served on remand, the latter two were able to walk free from court yesterday as they had already served their sentences.
Police netted ring of travellers
THESE are the CCTV and police surveillance images which led to the capture of the ring of travellers operating in England and Wales.
What started with a call from a Cwmbran pensioner ended with arrests made, partly thanks to one of them ordering a takeaway pizza.
Detective Sergeants Steve Hughes and Dave Trew took a call relating to a fraud of a 92-year-old Cwmbran widower on April 17, 2012.
The pensioner was contacted the previous week to say drainage work needed doing on his house.
A 'Mr Long at A1 Drainage' told him the problem was in his back garden and would cost £500 to repair.
He was told a neighbour of his called Gary could collect the money, DS Hughes said the travellers’ gamble on him not knowing his neighbours.
Police believe travellers who live nearby used their knowledge to target vulnerable people and worked with accomplices at sites in England.
The victim was told he had to pay a £2,500 deposit for the insurance on specialist machinery - later doubled to £5,000.
DS Hughes said: "They say he has to pay up or he'd have to be evicted and move to a hotel - things said to frighten someone of 92."
The pensioner withdrew the cash and 'Gary', who turned out to be Llewellyn Smith collected it.
A few days later when the victim spoke to a neighbour who had never heard of a sewerage problem, he realised he'd been conned and reported it to police who told him to ring them if anyone from the company phoned back.
The phoney company called again saying someone would be along tomorrow to return the £5,000. A surveillance team was sent to his house and officers were stationed inside.
That morning yet more calls arrived and police used one of their Blackberry's to record the calls, capturing the fraudster pressuring the elderly man to withdraw money from the bank.
DS Trew said calls were coming in from the supposed credit agency for the drainage company saying they had mistakenly credited his bank account with £8,000 and he had to repay the difference in cash.
Just 30 minutes later, the surveillance team captured a man walking up the man's driveway: "He stopped short of knocking the front door because the curtains were drawn and we think he might have smelled a rat," said DS Hughes. He walked off and police followed him and he was arrested.
Initially, police thought this was where the case started and ended but through examining phone records, a number in Surrey was identified. This was where the bogus calls originated to victims as well as directing accomplices to collect money.
Tracing phone data, officers linked the phone in Surrey to numbers in Torfaen and Essex. Using this information, they tracked the men and identified them on CCTV in garages and shops in Wales and England.
Wayne Smith was arrested after his vehicle was caught on CCTV in Surrey.
Officers tracked the Essex number to the traveller site in Pilgrim’s Lane after the phone was used to get a Domino's pizza delivered there.
Detectives got a warrant for the plot registered to Cummins, and raided the site.
DS Hughes said: "As we approached, he popped his head out of a different caravan to see what was going on - one of the officers recognised him from CCTV and we arrested him."
DS Hughes said there were victims in North Wales, London and Hertfordshire being contacted from the Surrey phone number while this investigation was ongoing.
These included another Cwmbran pensioner being swindled into handing over £3,000 which was paid into a bank account and withdrawn by James Smith at a Barclays bank in Stoke-on-Trent, where he was visiting family, within 90 minutes.
‘We’re proud of dad for turning tables on crooks’
THE son of the Cwmbran pensioner targeted by the crooks said: "Whilst I was shocked that my elderly father had been targeted in such callous way, we’re all immensely proud that working with the police he turned the tables on the criminals and helped secure their convictions.
"He wasn’t prepared to let them get away with it and did his bit to make sure they didn’t. I’m disappointed about the lengths of sentences passed down to the criminals as the cold and calculating nature of their crimes has caused a lot of harm.
"I hope that this case serves as a warning to others to look out for suspicious activity in their neighbourhood and to call the police if they have any concerns."
Sentence should act as deterrent to ‘despicable crime’
SPEAKING after the case, DS Trew said: "Many hours of police work were put into dismantling this sophisticated organised crime group. Today’s sentence will give some justice to the victims and their families and hopefully act as a deterrent to others who would commit this type of despicable crime."
DS Hughes added: "Operation Dakota started with the brave co-operation of the 92-year-old man and by looking at complex phone data, we were able to identify ringleader Wayne Smith and Barney Cummins and it became apparent they were committing offences on elderly victims on a national basis."
‘Be aware of scam merchants’
DS HUGHES said cons like this show that people need to be careful about what information they hand over when they are called or door knocked by strangers, even if they claim to be representing a business.
He said: "We want to make elderly people aware of scams like these - if you receive a phone call or a knock on the door, don't part with any personal details at all, particularly phone numbers. If you have any doubts or suspicions, please contact the police straight away.
"We've dealt with one cell, this is happening on a national scale with different groups of travellers, they're adapting and changing all the time. This gang was extremely sophisticated and if you think you've been a victim, please do not feel embarrassed."
Anyone concerned about any contact they have received can call Gwent Police on 101.