Cowboy builders who passed around 83-year-old woman are jailed for total of 14 years

Cowboy builders who ‘passed around’ an 83-year-old woman to con her out of her home and over £100,000 have been jailed for 14 years.

John O’Connor, 36, convinced the pensioner to sell her £290,000 house to him for £25,000.

He convinced her she was overrun with the costs of repairing her house and that she could live in the house for the rest of her life while he took care of it.

Roger Knight, 44, John Keenan, 39, and Samuel Smith, 40, helped swindle her out of tens of thousands for spurious work. The defendants’ relatives shouted ‘scum’ at the judge as he jailed the three men at Southwark Crown Court heard.

John Keenan (pictured) moved cash made from conning the victim into his daughter's account

John O’Connor (left) convinced the pensioner to sell her £290,000 house to him for just £25,000 and John Keenan (right) moved cash made from conning the victim into his daughter’s account  

Prosecutor Catherine Farrelly said that the victim – who cannot be named for legal reasons – met Mr O’Connor in 2007. She lived alone at the address where she’d resided all her life and was left the house by her parents.

‘She had asked a man to carry out some work on her property, that person was connected with the first defendant, John O’Connor – that individual along with two others undertook work for £28,000,’ she said. 

‘They went on to tell her she also needed rafters and that would cost £29,000. It transpired that was a complete and utter lie because a chartered surveyor from the police was of the view there was nothing at all wrong with the rafters.

‘But she acted on the word of these other individuals and they essentially convinced her to raise that £29,000.

‘They introduced her to Mr O’Connor. No sooner had she expressed an interest in meeting O’Connor, that week he came to visit at her home address.

‘During the course of that first meeting he presented her with the proposition she could pay for the work by selling her house to him and he would then pay for the work and allow her to live there for the rest of her life.

‘She accepted Mr O’Connor’s offer to sell the house for £25,000 – less than a tenth of its value, £290,000.

‘However, she felt obliged to enter into the agreement and felt bound by it, so Mr O’Connor set about organising the sale of the house.’

Samuel Smith (pictured) was part of a con that defrauded an elderly woman out of thousands

Roger Knight (pictured) were part of a con that defrauded an elderly woman out of thousands

Samuel Smith (left) and Roger Knight (right) were part of a con that defrauded an elderly woman out of thousands 

In April 2008, O’Connor had a contract drawn up and the property was sold to him for the knockdown price in exchange for a 21-year lease for the victim.

Knight then became involved. The victim was visited at home by  a man known as Roger, not confirmed to be the defendant. 

But he convinced her to make out four cheques, each for £17,500, for someone to do the rafters. That total of £70,000 landed in two bank accounts belonging to the defendant, Knight. 

Smith joined the act in late 2009 and defrauded her out of £28,500 for ‘underpinning’ work on the house.

He went back for another round of imaginary work costing her £8,500 in 2011.

In 2013 ‘she was becoming increasingly desperate to get her property back’ after she was told by a man she knew as Mick that some of the rooms in her house were going to be let out.

Mick told her to transfer £27,000 to Keenan, £10,000 of which she borrowed from an elderly friend, under the pretence that the house would belong to her again.

Keenan quickly set about moving the cash into his 11-year-old daughter’s bank account.

It later turned out this bank account had been credited with £100,000 in an 18 month period which ‘vastly exceeded declared incomes.’

The victim told police she felt a ‘build-up of pressure’ which caused ‘loss of sleep, anxiety, significant loss of weight, increased blood pressure – all as a result of the stress.’

She described ‘a fear of opening her own front door to people and an increased sense of suspicion, feeling vulnerable in the home she has lived in all her life.’

And ‘a feeling of guilt in relation to the friends who had lent her money,’ as well as ‘a complete loss of savings.’

Keenan was also sentenced for two further cowboy builder frauds involving elderly people in west London last year.

Last summer he targeted an elderly man with Asperger’s by door stepping and telling him the neighbours were not happy with the state of his gutters and roof.

He would drive the old man to nearby HSBC where he had him withdraw cash on several occasions – £300, another £300, £1,200 and £2,000.

Another time he brought along a card payment device, conned the victim for £8,000 and left without doing any work.

His second victim was also told he had roof damage and guttering problems, which Keenan charged him £7,800 to ‘fix.’

In fact, he caused £2,000 worth of damage to the gutters.

Judge Peter Testar said: ‘This kind of offending has always been regarded as of the greatest seriousness.

‘It is disgraceful behaviour and she has been handed around from one unscrupulous fraudster to another and each has badly used her.’

The families of the defendants packed the public gallery and called the judge ‘scum’ as he sent their relatives down to the cells.

O’Connor, of Sevenoaks, Kent, admitted fraud by false representation and was sentenced to four years and nine months

Smith, of Reading, Berkshire, admitted two counts of fraud by false representation and was sentenced to three years.

Keenan, of Luton, Bedfordshire, admitted two counts of money laundering, two counts of fraud and was sentenced to six years and three months.

Knight, of Enfield, north London, admitted money laundering and was sentenced to 18 months suspended for two years.

Detective Constable Rob Enderby, of the Met’s Criminal Finance Team, said: ‘This group repeatedly targeted the victim who lived alone and convinced her that she needed work done to her house, causing enormous distress.

‘It will be a long time, if ever, that the victim’s faith in others is restored but I hope that the conviction and sentencing of this unscrupulous group will at least help her begin to feel safer. 

‘I am pleased with these sentences which demonstrate just how seriously the police and the courts take these kinds of offences.’