A CONWOMAN posed as a caring social worker to steal the life savings of vulnerable pensioners in a cruel campaign of burglaries that netted her nearly £20,000.
Mary Connors plundered thousands of pounds from elderly victims by systematically targeting them to talk her way into their homes.
She claimed to be a social worker or carer, offering her elderly targets specially designed wheelchairs or stairlifts in an effort to gain access to their homes.
But she employed her son-in-law, William O’Conner, to rummage through their homes as she distracted them with her lies.
In one cruel raid Connors combed an 87-year-old woman’s bungalow to steal more than £4,000 that her victim had put aside for her own funeral.
Now Connors, 45, and O’Conner, 33, have been jailed for a total of 10 years after detectives launched an investigation that stretched across four police force areas.
Robert Adams, prosecuting, told Newcastle Crown Court: “Between April and May 2011 police received reports of distraction burglaries all with the same modus operandi.
“She claimed to be a social worker or carer to gain access to the premises and while she distracted the occupant a man would carry out thefts from inside.”
Detectives mounted a case against Connors when her black Citroen C4 was spotted by automatic number plate recognition cameras and CCTV caught her in the act.
She raided a home in Walker, Newcastle, and stole more than £3,000 just hours before officers raided her Teesside home and arrested her.
Connors – the subject of a £1.3m proceeds of crime seizure for a money laundering and property scam in Northampton dating back to 2008 – was caught in the act on covert cameras.
When officers searched her home they found £1,520 before discovering a wad of notes totalling £10,000 buried in her garden.
She was interviewed and broke down, confessing to 20 burglaries across the North East that netted her more than £17,000 in just a matter of weeks.
CCTV compiled by detectives showed Connors and O’Conner trying to scam their way into a secure block of flats.
Their hands were covered to conceal their tracks and mask any forensic trace of their presence.
Recorder James Goss told Connors her burglaries were cruel and calculating. He told them: “There’s a huge emotional price to be paid by victims of crimes such as these and that’s what makes these so serious.”
Connors, of Martinet Drive, Thornaby, who operates under a number of aliases including Kathleen Doherty, was given six years behind bars after she admitted conspiracy to burgle. O’Conner, of Henmen Way, Hayes, Middlesex, was given four years.
Det Supt Alan Turner, who led the investigation, said: “This investigation highlights the advantages of Operation Bombay, a regional collaboration of forces to tackle this particular type of crime.
“Both offenders were arrested in Thornaby in Cleveland, shortly after the last reported offence in Walker, Newcastle, during this year, and cash was recovered from that address.
“Following a lengthy and complex investigation by the Op Bombay team similar offences were identified which had taken place over the previous 18 months, which were later admitted by Connors.
“This sort of offending is deplorable and I hope this demonstrates that people taking advantage of the elderly and vulnerable in our communities will not be tolerated and we’ll continue to do all we can to trace those responsible.”
Following her arrest, mother-of-three Connors retraced her steps to show detectives the homes she had targeted. Now her victims will receive a proportion of the cash seized.
Yvonne Taylor, defending Connors, told the court: “On a personal point of view she had a very troubled childhood and that led to her offending.”
Barristers acting for O’Conner, who had previously been jailed for raiding a 63-year-old man’s home and brandishing a metal bar, said he was “ashamed and remorseful” for his actions. He admitted being involved in three of the raids that earned him £6,500.
Two officers involved in the case were given special commendations from Recorder Goss for their “painstaking work”.
He told them: “I appreciate that cases of this kind are very difficult to investigate and require painstaking and patient work. These two officers have undertaken their duties admirably and should be commended for their work.”