Gang member jailed for distraction burglary - St Albans


A member of a gang of "determined, professional and callous" distraction burglars was jailed for 7 and a half years today/Friday.

John Cawley, 51,  posed as a police officer to prey on five elderly and vulnerable people in Hertfordshire, Slough and North London.

He was one of a number of men involved in a spate of similar crimes across south East England and the Midlands, St Albans crown court was told.

Prosecutor James Norman described the men as "determined, professional and callous distraction burglars."

On 5 April last year John Cawley and co-defendant James Boyle got into the home of an 89-year-old  in London NW9, causing £100 damage. The elderly man, who was watching a video, was shown what turned out to be a children's toy police badge.

Cawley and Boyle, who left empty-handed, were identified because a camera had been installed by the Met Police following an earlier burglary at the man's home.

On 8 June last year, at around ten past eight at night, they got into the home of 84-year-old Jack Jordan in Waltham Cross. They said they were investigating burglaries in the area and showed him a badge. Mr Jordan, who has since died, became dizzy and grabbed hold of one of the men, who became cross. At that they fled empty-handed, said Mr Norman.

Forty five minutes later, they got through the communal door of an 82-year-old woman's warden-assisted flat in Gordon Hill, Enfield, again leaving with nothing.

The pair drove on to Slough, reaching the home of a 70 year old man at 11pm. The victim's wife had just died and he had returned from surgery on his shoulder with his arm in a sling. Cawley and Boyle said there had been break-ins in the area. When the victim produced his wallet, it was snatched and the men left.

The wallet, which was worth £25, had no money in it but contained a photograph of the man's late wife. "It meant more to me than anything else," he said.

Cawley was caught after neighbours of an 82 year old Cheshunt woman raised the alarm on 12 July last year. They had once more pretended to be police officers and carried out a search and, in front of the victim, stole £50 cash. They were seen leaving and the real police were called. After a short chase both men were arrested.

Mr Norman said the victim was so upset she threw herself into the arms of a WPC who arrived at the scene. One officer was so worried about the elderly lady's state of mind that she offered to stay the night.

Police interviews with three of the victims were played to the court. Mr Jordan said: "They shouldn't do it to old people." The Enfield victim said: "I just make sure the door is locked. I was lucky they did not take anything. If they had I would have been a lot more upset.

John Cawley of Kings Cross Road, London pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit domestic burglaries. He had 15 previous court appearances for 30 offences. He had been jailed at Northampton crown court for 15 months in 2003 for distraction burglaries. In February 2010 he was sentenced for six distraction burglaries at St Albans crown court for 54 months. He had been released in April 2011 on licence.

His barrister Tim Nutley said Cawley had battled with an alcohol problem since he was a teenager and had lost his wife and family. He said he has had depression for 18 years.

Jailing him, Judge Martin Griffith said: "The most serious aspect is the targeting of elderly people. Frailty plays a part in the selection of the victim.

"You targeted the elderly who may be more trusting when presented with what appears to be a police badge. They feel stress after after their homes are violated. They feel angry with themselves because they have been taken in."

The judge went on to say the courts have a duty to protect elderly people who have the right to live independently.

Cawley was also made the subject of an Anti Soical Behaviour Order which includes a condition that he cannot call at addresses of people who do not know him and he must not posses any form of police identification.

In December, co-defendant James Boyle from Harrow was jailed for 8 years for 14 distraction burglaries.

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