A vulnerable great-grandmother targeted by a despicable thief masquerading as an honest odd-job man today welcomed a judge’s decision to lock him up for more than five years.
William James, 39, stole £180 from 87-year-old Iris Hobson and took money from a vulnerable 54-year-old man after demanding he hand over his debit card and pin number.
He then tried to persuade the man to sign a letter dropping charges against him, after driving his victim to a secluded spot in Lytham.
He went on to burgle the home of a man and tried to make it appear as though that victim had made a written demand for money in return for charges being dropped.
Police today described the crimes as “horrible” and “disgraceful”.
James, of Ilkley Grove, Cleveleys, who was described as a “rough and ready character” by his barrister at Preston Crown Court, admitted three offences of theft plus one of burglary and another of perverting the course of justice. He was jailed for five years and three months. Mrs Hobson said: “I think the sentence is a good one.”
“It will probably seem like a long time to him and I hope he will learn his lesson but whether he will I don’t know.
“What can you do to stop him doing it again when he is released?
“I trust people less now – I won’t let anyone I don’t know into my house and keep my chain on the door all the time.”
Mrs Hobson said she had trusted James because he had done a job for her before, working on apple trees in her garden.
“I don’t feel much towards him – how anyone can do something like that to elderly people? That money was my pension and was supposed to last me a while.
“People like him don’t have consciences and I don’t know that I can forgive him, even though I know perhaps I should.” James stole £180 from Mrs Hobson in October 2012. He called at her home, asking if she needed any more gardening work doing and was invited in. He said he would write her number down but caused a distraction, saying there was a problem with a water main in the area. James asked her to go upstairs and check the taps. She later realised that money had been stolen. His fingerprints were recovered from a living room table.
The remainder of his offences were carried out against a vulnerable man who lived alone. James did some gardening work for him and was paid £220 cash.
On December 12 last year he pushed his way into the man’s home and demanded he hand over his debit card and pin number. The defendant, whose behaviour was aggressive and threatening, obtained the card and number and withdrew even more than he claimed he was entitled to.
On February 3 this year the man picked him out in an identity parade. Two days later James went to his home and offered to repay some money in return for the charges being dropped.
The man agreed to go with him to the bank and to go in James’ van. The defendant didn’t take him to the bank but stopped in a secluded part of Lytham and made him write a letter, which amounted to a “set-up,” said a judge. The letter was handed to a solicitor the next day.
Judge Pamela Badley, sitting at Preston Crown Court, told James: “You have an unenviable record of preying on people who are vulnerable.”
She added: “That householder has been intimidated and his experience had been a very great trauma as far as he was concerned.”
Chris Hudson, defending, said James was a “rough and ready” man, who had always worked, acting as a tree surgeon.
“He often feels either he isn’t being paid or not being paid enough. What he has tended to do is go around to properties. He has gone, he would say, to claim what was due to him, but those in the properties would say he is an intimidating man by his size and he has already been paid what was due to him. He has got to learn he just can’t do it.”
The barrister said the guilty pleas had spared the victims from having to give evidence. But James had targeted vulnerable elderly people in the past.
He had previously conned an 83-year-old woman with dementia out of £300 and £350 on two separate occasions in 2010, for which he received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Det Sgt Steve Hallam, of Blackpool CID, said: “This was a horrible crime and Mrs Hobson was clearly upset by what happened. These are vulnerable people who have trusted James to come into their homes to do work, only for him to abuse that trust in the most disgraceful way.”