Men who targeted elderly jailed for a combined total of over 22 years


A long running and complex investigation into one of the country’s biggest distraction burglary series reached its conclusion on Friday, 07 June 2013, when the third defendant was sentenced at St Albans Crown Court to six years eight month imprisonment.

As well as being given the prison term, 54-year-old Patrick Cawley, of no fixed abode, was issued with an ASBO, which prohibits him from being in the company of James Boyle and/or John Cawley in any motor vehicle except a public service vehicle (e.g. a bus) or licensed taxi. He had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit distraction burglary on 22 February.

Patrick's brother, 51-year-old John Cawley, of Kings Cross Road in London, was sentenced at St Albans Crown Court on 22 February 2013, to seven and a half years imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit distraction burglary. He was also given an ASBO for his release with the following conditions:

  • that the defendant be prohibited from being in the company of James Boyle and/or Patrick Cawley in any motor vehicle except a public service vehicle (e.g. a bus) or licensed taxi;
  • that the defendant be prohibited from possessing anything likely to be mistaken for a police warrant card; and
  • that the defendant be prohibited from calling at any residential address for any purpose except where the occupant is already known to him.

At a hearing at St Albans Crown Court on 18 December 2012, 39-year-old James Boyle from Tookey Close in Harrow, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit distraction burglary. He was also given an ASBO, which becomes effective upon his release.

The three men have been convicted and sentenced for their part in systematically targeting the elderly to commit 45 distraction burglaries across the South East of England.

Between January 2012 and July 2012, over £25,000 was stolen from victims in Hertfordshire, Essex, London, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Surrey, Hampshire, Middlesex, Berkshire, and Wiltshire. The men targeted people in their 80s or 90s, predominantly living alone, and often suffering from health issues. The two oldest victims were aged 99.

The investigation was led by Hertfordshire Constabulary's Operation Manhunt team, a specialist unit set up to investigate distraction burglary and other crimes against the elderly.

In all cases, the men would claim to be police officers to con their way inside a property. They would flash the victim a fake police warrant card, tell them they had just arrested someone for a burglary in the area and needed the victim to check if anything had been stolen from their home. Whilst the victim was distracted, one of the men would rifle through their belongings and steal cash and other valuables.

As more incidents were reported to police, detectives from Hertfordshire Constabulary's Operation Manhunt identified the links and took on responsibility for investigating the crimes on behalf of all police forces affected.

The men were caught in July 2012, fleeing from the scene of a distraction burglary in Waltham Cross. A resident was driving past their neighbour's home when they saw two men at her door, who she believed were suspicious. The quick thinking neighbour called the police, who detained the men.

Baljit Ubhey OBE, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: "During the first half of 2012 a gang of determined, prolific and callous distraction burglars based in north London targeted elderly and vulnerable people across southern England and the Midlands.

"The gang's method was to exploit the trust, confusion and infirmity of their victims in order to enter their homes and steal their property. The gang's favoured ruse was to gain entry by impersonating police officers.  The offences committed are despicable, pitiless and heartless.

"We have a duty to protect the vulnerable members of our society.  The CPS takes the criminal mistreatment of vulnerable people extremely seriously and built a strong case, linking the incidents, to present the court with the full extent of this gang's offending.  This allowed the Judge to sentence appropriately for this appalling campaign of deception and theft.

"This case should give victims the confidence to speak up.  Victims should not hesitate to report trust cons to the police, so that they can be prosecuted appropriately in order to prevent further victims being preyed upon.

"This case also 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 not only financially, but with their liberty too."

A victim of the trio said: "The burglary destroyed my confidence. I thought they had come to my door to tell me bad news about my son and of course once they'd got in that was it. It destroys confidence and it makes you nervous, I don't know who to trust. I keep the chain on the door now. I do appreciate the support I have had from the police."

Detective Sergeant Mark Clawson from Operation Manhunt, said: "These men thought they were untouchable and thought that by travelling the country they would evade police, but they were wrong.  By the time of their arrest we had already linked the majority of their crimes and were close to identifying them.

"These ruthless criminals left a trail of destruction behind them, often leaving their victims feeling extremely vulnerable and unable to continue living independently at home. In some cases the victims' health has severely deteriorated as a direct result of the incident.

"Often the victims feel pressurised into letting these criminals in, because they believe there is a genuine emergency. If a police officer comes to your door they will always show you their warrant card, which contains a photo, and allow you time to call the non-emergency number 101 to verify their identity.

"Having seen first-hand the lasting effects left on their victims, I am extremely pleased they have been given substantial sentences and will no longer be able to target our most vulnerable members of the community."

The offences occurred in the following locations:

  • Hertfordshire - Borehamwood, Radlett, Waltham Cross
  • Essex - Brentwood, Buckhurst Hill, Waltham Abbey
  • London - Gordon Hill, Enfield, Barking, Leytonstone, Walthamstow, Lewisham, Harringey, Brent Cross, Tolworth
  • Buckinghamshire - Princes Risborough, Aylesbury
  • Oxfordshire - Henley-on-Thames, Thame
  • Warwickshire - Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Surrey - Mitcham, Croydon, Dorking, Redhill, Eastleigh, Staines, Shepperton, Leatherhead
  • Hampshire - Winchester, Andover, Hook
  • Middlesex - Feltham, Wembley
  • Berkshire - Slough
  • Wiltshire - Salisbury, Swindon.