Saturday, May 12, 2007

YOU'RE NICKED - IS IT A FAIR COP?

There's a warning from police in Lewisham about a door to door scam that's already fooled several residents. A young woman knocks on doors and claims she's locked herself out and needs cash for a cab or a locksmith. Police say many people are falling for it because she's smartly dressed and sometimes even has children with her. Residents in Brockley, Hither Green and Ladywell have all parted with sums ranging from 20 to 100 pounds in cash.
06 November 2006 (time1068.com)

THE CON ARTIST speck

The young woman who stood on my neighbour’s doorstep claimed that she had been ‘locked out’. She desperately needed to get to her sister, a nurse, only then could she grab a spare set of keys and 'return the money later'. Or so she told my gullible neighbour.

Although Mary (not her real name) did not recognise the woman she immediately empathised. She had just withdrawn some money from the bank, a £50 note, and the woman who apparently lived directly opposite said that this would be fine. But, later that evening and well into the next day and the next the young woman never returned.

My neighbour it later transpired had been conned... In fact the mysterious woman did not live opposite and never had any intention of returning the fifty pounds.

Surprisingly police at Lewisham did not investigate the 'theft', and neither was the incident recorded as a crime - and like a little Houdini the con artist vanished. But Mary was not her only victim...

In fact the scoundrel had been knitting the wool over kind old eyes for quite some time, octogenarian Mary was no exception, and the 'perp' (already known to police amongst the wanted) was hooked to deception along with several other substances.

I heard determined footsteps just behind me. I had just returned with my daughter. The woman smiled briefly and suddenly turned into Mary’s pathway. I hung back… There was something in the smile, the body language… she was I realised trying too hard to ‘seem’ casual. I had never seen her on Mary’s step before. And Mary, as the cons who were preying on her knew, could be quite forgetful....

‘What makes you think it’s the same woman?’ came the officious police response after I had dialled the Nines.

She fitted the description given to me by Mary and other neighbours.

But this must have appeared unconvincing to the person at the other end of the phone as the voice appeared doubtful. Fortunately though, it was then that a familiar figure appeared through the glass at my door. ‘She’s here,’ I whispered.

The young woman was slim... and looked quite desperate. She claimed that she had been 'locked out' of the house next door where her sister had been living. (In fact I wanted to tell her that it was Mary's house, the one she had lived in for decades, only leaving briefly when the Germans dropped a bomb on it during the 2nd World War. I also wanted to tell her that Mary had been a doctor and had been seconded to the War Office checking the bomb damage our boys were doing to the Germans, a kind of quid pro quo I guess, but it would not have made a blind bit of difference to this woman. She was part of a later generation known as the Must Gets. (Mary's dad rebuilt the house in Brockley that Hitler bombed and it remains a fine example of a postwar Victorian repro.)

‘Locked out.’ Bexleheath.’ ‘Sister.’ ‘Money.’ I listened to her familiar mantra, along with the police who were no doubt recording on the other end of the phone. Apparently she needed to use the phone - desperately - so I hung up on the police. Heeding the warning that they had given me, 'If she tries to leave don't stop her!'

The phone number she gave belonged to a mobile that was switched off, naturally. But it was money she needed... Only then could she get a taxi to her sister in the hospital. Later that evening she would return it to me. A predicament (through sobs) that was ‘all a bit embarrassing really.’

‘Would fifty pounds do?’ I asked, with the barest trace of irony.

This must have impacted because she immediately stopped crying and nodded. I told her that I was out of money. It wasn't true but I was buying time, waiting for that familiar sound of the sirens. I said that my wife would be back any minute and that she would have cash on her. Unfortunately it was at this point that my five year old piped up, ‘Mummy doesn’t come back ‘til the evening.’ Remembering the police instruction not to stop her if she tried to leave I parried. ‘She thinks the dark afternoons are evenings.’ A ruse that must have made sense.

Unfortunately the best laid plans can also be defeated by elders too… Mary had been down to Lewisham shopping centre and was carrying two bags as she trundled past me. Our seemingly ten-minute game of cat-and-mouse was up. I finally admitted to the woman that I was not going to giver her anything.

‘Because you conned that old lady behind you out of fifty quid!’

Mary confirmed this as she cried, ‘That’s her! She’s the one who stole my money! You naughty girl!’

The con woman seemed reluctant to wait for the police. In fact she took off like a bat out of hell. Suddenly she raced down the pathway screaming at dear old Mary. ‘Shut up, you old bag!’

‘Charming!’ was Mary’s response.

However, just when you need them most... our friends in blue serge arrived. (Actually they don't dress like that anymore but mostly wear stab vests and Day-Glo.) In fact they were in shirtsleeves and their blue-flashing lights appeared from both ends of the street.

‘Well, perhaps you’ll speak to the police instead,’ I said. Finally, after many months of deception, the con had herself been conned.

The following is taken from the Metropolitan Police website...

Conwoman handed an ASBO

27-year-old Pamela Fay was sentenced at Greenwich Magistrates Court on 6 December after she was found guilty of deceiving an 89-year-old woman of money.
The victim recognised Fay as the same person who had knocked on her door on two occasions, whilst pretending to be distressed and in need of money for things like cab or train fares.
Fay admitted two counts of obtaining property by deception and one count of attempting to obtain property by deception. She was sentenced to an eight week suspended sentence and ordered to attend drug treatment sessions.
Eight other counts of deception will be taken into consideration.
Additionally Fay was issued an ASBO with conditions not to approach any member of the public, anywhere and ask for money.
Police Sergeant David Deuchar from the Lewisham Borough, Ladywell Safer Neighbourhood Team said: "Officers from the Ladywell SN teamworked closely with Lewisham Council to secure this ASBO. Fay preyed on the good nature of the public to feed her drugs habit and she committed offences across Lewisham Borough. This case is a fine example of response team officers, CID and Safer Neighbourhood Teams working together to tackle this type of crime."

[Italics mine and meant to convey a fine example of incredulity.]

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