Man jailed for stealing Norwich OAP's pension cash

Matthew SparkesA homeless man who befriended a disabled 77-year-old Norwich woman before stealing her pension money has been jailed for 16 months.Matthew Sparkes

A homeless man who befriended a disabled 77-year-old Norwich woman before stealing her pension money has been jailed for 16 months.

Thomas O'Neill, 27, acted as a travelling gardener to get into his victim's city home and then stole �240 from her as she made him coffee.

As he left her bungalow in December, after he stole the money, his victim handed him a Christmas card and he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Norwich Crown Court heard yesterday that O'Neill's deception began on December 13 when he called at the woman's one-bedroom home in Union Street, Norwich, and offered his services as a gardener.

Malcolm Robins, prosecuting, said O'Neill told the elderly woman, who is disabled after losing an eye, that he would cut her hedge the next day when he had his tools with him.

Before he left, he cleared some leaves from her garden and was paid �10.

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When he returned the next day, she had been counting the pension money she stored in a small tin in her lounge in advance of her weekly trip to buy groceries.

O'Neill stayed in the living room as the victim went to make him a cup of coffee and snatched �240 from the tin - leaving her with only �20 to survive on until her next pension day.

Even after the callous theft, he stayed and chatted to the woman before making his excuses and leaving without carrying out any work on the garden.

O'Neill, of no fixed abode, appeared for sentencing at Norwich Crown Court yesterday after pleading guilty to one count of theft at an earlier hearing.

He had originally told police that he was just looking for work to pay for a journey back to Great Yarmouth to visit the job centre.

Jonathan Morgans, mitigating, said that O'Neill's lack of respect for the law had been 'startling' but that a drug addiction had been his motivation.

He said that O'Neill, who has a four-year-old son, had also suffered from mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

'He is genuinely and thoroughly ashamed of what he did,' he added.

'His aim is to settle down, get married and find work. His remorse is genuine.'

Detective Constable David McCormack, who runs Operation Radar to target rogue traders, said: 'Quite frankly this is a despicable crime.

'It is my firm belief he used the first visit to recce the victim and the property, then the second visit to target her and find her savings.'

Sentencing O'Neill at Norwich Crown Court yesterday , Recorder Guy Ayers said: 'What one cannot overlook in this case is the sheer level of meanness.

'Whilst you were in her company she couldn't have been kinder or more helpful to you and you repaid her by stealing quite a substantial amount of money.'

He handed down a sentence of 16 months in prison for theft, but said that the 135 days that O'Neill had already spent in custody would be taken into account.

A �50 note that was found on O'Neill when he was arrested was ordered to be paid to the victim.

No further compensation order was made because O'Neill had no savings and no job.

However, Recorder Ayers said that his sentence did not prevent O'Neill from repaying the money if his conscience told him to.

Rogue traders and opportunistic thieves target vulnerable or elderly people.

In the most serious cases, offenders will return to the same victim again and again until their savings are exhausted.

Norfolk police have offered these tips to help you avoid becoming a victim.

* Close and lock your back door before answering the front door

* Use a spy hole, chain or window to have a look at the caller before answering the door. If you do not recognise them, speak through the locked door

* Display a No Cold Calling sticker on your door - these are free from your local Safer Neighbourhood Team

* If the caller is selling something or offering work on your house or garden, ask them to leave

* If they do not leave, tell them you will call the police.

* Always ask for proof of identity and take it from the person through the letterbox

* Phone the company or organisation the caller claims to be from to confirm their identity

* If you have any doubt - keep them out