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JAILED: Travellers conned vulnerable elderly victims out of £160k

By Megan Archer | Cheslyn Hay & Great Wyrley | Crime | Published:

Three members of the same family of travellers in Staffordshire have been jailed after defrauding elderly and vulnerable victims across the country.

Left to right: Fred Smith with sons in law Mitchell Seedhouse and George Humberstone

Fred Smith, 62, and his two sons in law, George Thomas Humberstone, 35, and Mitchell Seedhouse, 26, all of Clees Park Travellers Site in Great Wyrley, targeted victims in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, Shropshire and elsewhere.

Teeside Crown Court court heard their victims were elderly and vulnerable, and were targeted – often repeatedly – over many months and years.

They undertook unnecessary, shoddy and grossly over-priced works to the victim’s roofs with frauds totalling more than £160,000 involving 27 victims.

One of the victims included an elderly female and her carer living in Staffordshire, who was targeted by Smith and Humberstone in 2014 and paid them a total of £14,600.

An expert examining that work stated it was worth £4,775 but was probably not necessary in the first place.

A 91-year-old man living alone also in Staffordshire was also conned out of £15,050 by Smith in 2014 and 2015. The work done would have actually cost £2,000.

Smith was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, Seedhouse to five years and Humberstone to three and a half years.

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All three were also made the subject of Criminal Behaviour Orders, banning them from conducting any form of property repairs at houses and from cold calling for 10 years.

Sentencing the men, Judge Sean Morris said: “I cannot think of anything more low. Picking on the weak and elderly. I’ve seen the victim personal statements and heard one of the victims talk about the devastation you caused.

"They trusted you and liked you. No doubt you were laughing behind their backs. They felt stupid but they weren’t stupid, they were trusting, decent folk.

“This was a sophisticated, nationwide, deliberate fraud.

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“This has had a serious detrimental effect on all of the victims and all, or the majority, are vulnerable because of their age and they were targeted as such.”

Smith and Seedhouse were arrested at Cleese Park in September 2016. Humberstone was interviewed in prison in May 2017 where he was serving just more than three years for a similar offence.

Ex-Army officer 'feels ashamed'

A pensioner who was defrauded out of thousands of pounds said he feels ashamed and wants to forget the entire encounter.

The 85-year-old, from South Shropshire, was defrauded of £14,830 by Fred Smith and his son-in-law George Thomas Humberstone, who were both jailed at Teesside Crown Court.

The pair carried out work to his property but it was poor, overpriced and remedial work is now required to the roof of his home.

In a victim impact statement, he said: “The entire encounter with Fred Smith is something I have tried to shut out as a phase in my life I want to forget.

“I was a serving Army officer for 33 years, many of which were spent on the front line, and following my retirement my wife and I had a few enjoyable years before she was taken ill.

“For the next 27 years I became her full-time carer, as she was unable to do things for herself and became unable to speak.

“She sadly died some time ago leaving me living alone but managing very well with some outside help for cleaning, gardening and shopping, paid for by attendance allowance that I became eligible for.

“I have also recovered from two bouts of cancer.

“Having achieved and coped with so much in my life, I feel ashamed that Fred Smith was able to undermine all this and I have surrendered to him without a fight.”

The prosecution followed an investigation by Operation Gauntlet, the multi-agency safeguarding team hosted at North Yorkshire County Council Trading Standards service, aided by Staffordshire Police.

County Councillor Andrew Lee, executive member for North Yorkshire Trading Standards, said: “This case is a perfect example of collaborative working to deal with a team of offenders who considered the elderly and vulnerable to be rich pickings, who existed purely to fund their luxury lifestyles.

“We take the protection of the vulnerable in our communities extremely seriously.

“I must take this opportunity to warn residents not to deal with cold callers and to report any concerns to us immediately.”

Detective Inspector Giles Parsons, of Staffordshire Police, said: “We were keen to work with North Yorkshire Trading Standards and assist them in executing these warrants in South Staffordshire.

“This was a well-planned operation and we are glad it has resulted in these three men being sentenced for their crimes.”

Megan Archer

By Megan Archer
Deputy Chief Reporter - @MeganA_Star

Deputy Chief Reporter with the Express & Star. Give me a call on 01902 319363 or email megan.archer@expressandstar.co.uk.

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