Man jailed for series of distraction burglaries - South East

11/02/2016

A man, who was arrested and charged with a series of distraction burglary offences, following an appeal on BBC’s Crimewatch, appeared at St Albans Crown Court today, Thursday, 11 February 2016, and was jailed for 15 years and two months.

Thomas Hannifin, aged 24, of no fixed address, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for conspiracy to burgle and three years and two months imprisonment for robbery, to run consecutively.

The complex investigation was led by Hertfordshire Constabulary's specialist team Operation Manhunt, which investigates distraction burglary, frauds and other crimes against the elderly.

It involved a series of approximately 20 distraction burglaries across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey and London. The majority of victims were aged in their 80s and 90s, with one victim aged 94.

In most cases, up to three offenders created a false reason to gain entry to the property to steal, such as investigating a burst pipe, or repairing a water leak. Jewellery and cash were predominantly taken.

Officers from Operation Manhunt appeared on Crimewatch in March 2015, to appeal for information about the burglaries, which occurred between August and October 2014.  Police received an overwhelming response and Hannifin was arrested a week later.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle, and robbery on 04 January 2016.

Adrian Foster, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: "This case involved a significant conspiracy to commit burglaries and steal, amounting to numerous recorded offences of distraction burglary, burglary and attempted burglary.  For nearly two months September-October 2014, Thomas Hannifin and others, who remain unidentified, systematically targeted properties across the South East, predominantly occupied by older people, some of whom have since sadly died.

"The crime spree was well planned and organised with entry gained to the majority of the properties using the rouse of a burst pipe or to repair a water leak. These criminals ruthlessly picked on the elderly and vulnerable, left a trail of destruction behind them, thought they were untouchable, and have had an enormous impact on communities in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, London, Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.

"Hannifin was arrested last March after a Hertfordshire Constabulary appeal on Crimewatch.  He answered no comment during his police interview, but on the first day of his trial at St Albans Crown Court on Monday, 04 January 2016, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and robbery.

"We have worked closely with Hertfordshire Constabulary since this investigation was launched and as a result of the hard work and diligence of the prosecution team, a just outcome has been achieved.  The CPS and police have a duty to protect the public and take this kind of criminality extremely seriously.  We built a strong case, linking Hannifin to the incidents using cell site analysis and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), to present the court with the full extent of the offending, enabling the Judge to sentence appropriately for this appalling campaign of violation and theft.

"This case sends a clear message to those involved in this kind of criminality that we will robustly prosecute them to ensure that justice is done, and that they will pay with their liberty.  We know that nothing will make up for the effect these incidents have had on the victims, but we hope that they can now move on in the knowledge that this predatory offender is off their streets and unable to target anybody else.  Our thoughts are very much with all the victims at this time."

Detective Inspector Luke Whinnett from Operation Manhunt said: "Hannifin deliberately and callously targeted some of the most vulnerable members of society for his own selfish gain.

"Thanks to the determination of the Operation Manhunt team and information from members of the public Hannifin is now behind bars, which I hope brings some comfort to his victims and their families. I am pleased that he has been handed a substantial sentence for his despicable behaviour.

"It is a sad fact that criminals like these will be operating across the country day to day and I would like to take this opportunity to advise people to be vigilant if an unexpected caller arrives at your home. Our advice is simple, if you aren't sure, don't open the door."