‘Despicable’ bogus caller jailed for 11 years

EAST Anglia’s worst ever distraction burglar, who preyed on more than 100 women and stole tens of thousands of pounds in less than year, was today jailed for his “despicable” crimes.

Despite claiming he was too ill to work, benefit cheat Neil Seagrave travelled the country, deliberately selecting widows who lived alone.

Posing as a police officer or utility worker he conned his way into the homes of women aged between 79 and 101-years-old.

Victims told how they had been left traumatised by his crimes. For many, who had prided themselves on their independence, it was the final straw which led to a deterioration in their health or mental well-being.

The majority of his 101 crimes happened in Norfolk, particularly Thetford, King’s Lynn, Norwich, Swaffham and Great Yarmouth.

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But he also travelled to Ipswich, Cambridgeshire, Stockport, Humberside, Staffordshire, West Mercia, Manchester, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.

The 49-year-old, of Fitzgerald Road, Norwich, was jailed for 11 years at Norwich Crown Court today after admitting the burglaries. Police and prosecutors said he was the most prolific distraction burglar they had ever known.

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Det Sgt Pete Jessop, who leads Operation Radar, a Norfolk police drive to stamp out distraction burglars, said: “In 21 years in the job, it is hard to think of anybody more despicable.”

The court heard that he took �10,000 in his biggest single hit and in total stole �58,000. But he squandered the money on luxury hotels, gambling and drugs and only �11,000 was left by the time police caught up with him.

Throughout the period of his offences, between March 2009 and Janurary 2010, he also claimed between �1,600 and �2,000 a month in benefit.

He was caught when 84-year-old Evelyn Muszynski, from Norwich, became suspicious after seeing him entering the home of her blind friend. She said: “I just knew something wasn’t right and I called the police.”

Investigating officer Det Con Dave McCormack said: “Many of his victims are very frail indeed and what happened to them has had an enormous impact.

“Some can no longer sleep at night without seeing his face and some no longer feel safe in their own homes. For others it has sadly led to a decline in their health.”

Prosecutor John Farmer said Seagrave had a previous conviction for similar crimes but “this time he had sharpened up his act”.

He had selected his victims using an online electoral register, making sure they were vulnerable and would not fight back.

Once inside their homes he would distract them before searching the house for cash and valuables which would be easy to sell.

Police were able to trace him as he logged onto the online register to check addresses and their occupants minutes before each crime. Hotel and hire car receipts were also used to connect his movements to offences.

In mitigation, Michael Claire said Seagrave had been unable to work due to health problems and was trying to provide for his young children.

But he added: “Nothing I can say is any consolation to the victims.”

Judge Simon Barham said the offences had been “particularly despicable”. “This was sustained and carefully planned,” he added.

Det Sgt Jessop said the result was “extremely satisfying” and served as an example of why Norfolk police is determined to clamp down on distraction burglars and bogus callers.

He added: “Seagrave is a horrible a character who preyed on genuine but scared elderly ladies. People like him who move around the country hoping the distance between crimes will be enough to elude capture, need to realise that such boundaries are becoming non-existent.

“I would like to thank everyone who has helped pull this together. It has been a frustrating 10 months or so exasperated by the stubbornness of Seagrave who refused to accept the overwhelming evidence against him and in doing so prolonged the heartache of his victims.”

Andrew Baxter, the Crown Prosecution Service’s chief prosecutor, said: “These crimes targeted really vulnerable people, all elderly ladies.

“The offences were sophisticated and there were a large number of burglaries to deal with, across several police forces and a large geographical area.

“A great deal of evidence had to be gathered.

“The prosecution team are pleased that an overwhelming case was put together and that for the victims of these crimes there can be some closure.”

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