15 years for the cruel crook who targeted old folk

Becky Littlechild next to one of the holes left by Affinity Water, which has since been filled.

Becky Littlechild next to one of the holes left by Affinity Water, which has since been filled. - Credit: Archant

A man who targeted the elderly in a string of distraction burglaries – including two in Royston – has been jailed for 15 years.

Thomas Hannifin was sentenced on Thursday to 15 years and two months in total for conspiracy to burgle and robbery at St Albans Crown Court.

The 24-year-old of no fixed address was arrested and charged in March last year following an appeal from Herts police’s Operation Manhunt team on TV’s Crimewatch, which prompted an ‘overwhelming’ response. He pleaded guilty on January 4.

There were two burglaries in Royston and most victims, who live in Herts, Beds, Essex, Buckinghamshire and other counties, were in their 80s and 90s.

In the majority of cases up to three offenders presented themselves to the householder as engineers there to tend to a burst pipe or water leak, then stole jewellery and cash.

This was the case for both of the incidents in Royston, where a man gained entry by claiming to be from the water board.

In one case cash and jewellery were taken, while in the other the victim noticed two more people in the property, prompting all three intruders to leave.

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Det Insp Luke Whinnett, a member of Operation Manhunt – which looks into distraction burglary, fraud and other crimes against the elderly – said: “Hannifin deliberately and callously targeted some of the most vulnerable members of society for his own selfish gain.

“Thanks to the determination of the Operation Manhunt team and information from members of the public Hannifin is now behind bars, which I hope brings some comfort to his victims and their families.

“I am pleased that he has been handed a substantial sentence for his despicable behaviour. If you aren’t sure, don’t open the door.”