A WICKED pair of doorstep conmen were put behind bars on Monday after callously cheating a forgetful 92-year-old woman out of her life savings.
Evil duo John Best, 25, from Brigg, and Maurice Smith, 20, from Shepperton, Surrey hounded, threatened and cajoled Mary Cork into paying more than 14,000 for a just one day’s gardening. Each was given two years detention.
Realising she suffered short term memory loss they and a third man who has gone on the run, returned day after day demanding more and more money from the helpless former geography teacher.
Eventually they became so cocky that they would hire taxis to pick her up from her home in Chertsey, Surrey to take her to the bank to withdraw cash for them.
They bombarded her with more than 100 phone calls and whenever she looked like resisting their demands they resorted to terrororising her by pretending to be police officers who would arrest her if she didn't pay up.
A crown court jury was told the despicable conspiracy started around July 2007 when Miss Cork agreed to let them do her garden after they cold-called her home.
They reduced a cyprus tree and a magnolia to stumps. Branches were removed from a maple tree and shrubs were trimmed. An independent expert worked out the total cost of labour should have been in the region of 500.
As expected, Miss Cork first wrote a cheque for 450 to M.Smith but weeks later she wrote another cheque to Smith's girlfriend Kelly Headley for 2,500.
Her faulty memory meant she could never quite recall whether she had paid the bogus gardeners and continued handing over money as and when they demanded it. Over four months she parted with 14,665.
On one occasion a concerned neighbour grappled with Best, but he managed to flee.
It was only when staff at Barclays Bank, Chertsey, became suspicious at the large amounts being withdrawn that police were called.
Cashier Olga Shaw demanded to see a bill from the gardening firm Miss Cork was handing so much cash to and was given a fake invoice.
Jim Chuter, the third member of the gang, from Langley, Berks, was believed to have masterminded the plot. He denied conspiracy to steal but fled before trial and went on the run.
Richard Bendall, prosecuting, said: "I think it is fair to say Mr Chuter was the main perpetrator. A third cheque for 2,250 went into Alice Carey's account who was Chuter's girlfriend. Later a cheque for exactly half that amount was made out from her account to M. Smith."
Chuter, of Foxborough Close Langley, Berks was held to have been responsible for hounding Miss Cork, now 94, with menacing phone calls and visits.
Records showed he made over 100 calls in November 1997, sometimes pretending to be a detective and threatening Miss Cork with arrest if she failed to pay up and other times purporting to be from British Gas where he warned if she didn't pay for a new meter, she would have her gas and heating cut off weeks before Christmas.
A number of the persistent calls originated from Best's mobile phone.
Abbe Arnold, defending Best, reminded sentencing Judge Michael Addison her client lent his phone to Chuter and there was technically no evidence to prove Best actually made any of the calls.
Judge Addison said: "The jury did not believe that and neither do I."
Miss Arnold went on to downplay her client's role in role in both conspiracy to steal and blackmail saying Best who had previous convictions for theft of vehicle, criminal damage and interfering with a vehicle, accepted what had happened was reprehensible. and he was appalled by it but claiming he did not know the extent of the scam.
Smith, of Littleton Lane Caravan Park, Shepperton, admitted conspiracy to steal. At the time of the offence he said he had split with his girlfriend of seven years and turned to drink and drugs.
Gregory King-Underwood, defending, him said: "He accepts his behaviour was appalling and that he took advantage of a vulnerable lady in the most grotesque way."
The court heard he has since begun training horses for the travelling community, reduced his drug and alcohol taking and hoped to marry his new partner.
Judge Addison said: "You two with Chuter conspired to cheat a 92-year-old lady who was living alone.
"You hatched a scheme to obtain more and more money. Cheques were directed to you, Smith and you, Best, called at her house to collect 500. Best you contested the matter and told a pack of lies in court."
Best, of Swift Drive, Scawby Brook, Brigg was jailed for two years jail for conspiracy to steal running consecutively with two years for blackmail, making a total of four years behind bars.
Smith was sentenced to two years detention in a young offenders institution.
Paul Bates spokesman for Age Concern described the case as "Very distressing" and a warning to the elderly to beware of doorstep cold callers.