A couple who befriended elderly victims before fleecing them of thousands have been jailed for a total of almost ten years.
Christopher Barnes, 42, and his partner Lucy Palmer, 35, targeted five pensioners between October 2014 and September 2017.
The pair manipulated their victims by forging friendships and often ‘grossly overcharging’ them for unnecessary building and gardening work.
The now-separated couple even recruited their children to act as a surrogate family for their victims – two of whom have since died.
Christopher Barnes, 42, and his partner Lucy Palmer, 35, targeted five pensioners between October 2014 and September 2017
Palmer and Barnes fleeced a total of £635,000 from five victims over two years.
Barnes launched the scam a month after he was released from jail in September 2014, the Daily Express reported.
He had already been convicted of defrauding two pensioners out of £150,000.
Barnes presented himself as a ‘substantial and respectable’ gardener and builder, Chelmsford Crown Court heard.
He would often tell the elderly people he had befriended that they needed urgent structural work done before ‘grossly overcharging’ them.
Prosecutor Anwar Nashashibi said: ‘Mr Barnes played the leading role in this conspiracy. He devised the strategies that were used on each victim.
‘Mr Barnes is a man who is capable of being very charming and convincing.’
Mr Nashashibi told the court how Barnes targeted lonely people who were anxious for attention before exploiting this emotional vulnerability.
One victim, Veronica Mills, 79, was befriended by Barnes who then brought Palmer into the scam.
Palmer would take Mrs Mills out for lunch, calling her Nan, and even bought her gifts, the court heard.
Damien Salter (left) and Paul Masters (right) were also sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court
Barnes then persuaded Mrs Mills to transfer her £185,000 home in Clacton, Essex to him and cut her son out of her will. The pair then moved into her bungalow.
A second victim, Victor Borley, agreed to apply for his pension to be converted into a £117,000 lump sum to hand to Barnes.
He had been ill when he met the couple and has since died.
Granddaughter of victim says scam is ‘an absolute disgrace’
The granddaughter of one of the pair’s victims has deemed the scam ‘an absolute disgrace.’
Leah Clark’s grandfather William was scammed out of £38,000 after being approached by the couple.
Mr Clark, 85, passed away from cancer later – and Ms Clark blames this on Christopher Barnes.
She said he lost the will to live after being approached by the fraudster not long after his release from prison.
The estate agent said the pair showed no care, compassion, and gave no thought to the impact their ‘cruel’ actions could have.
She now hopes to raise awareness about this form of crime to prevent it happening to others.
The couple then targeted a second man, William Clark, but they suddenly vanished after charging him £105,000 for ‘upgrades’ to his home.
This scam was continued by another pair, Damien Salter, 29, and Samantha Rogers who went on to fleece him of another £38,000.
Judge Jonathan Seely deemed Barnes a ‘disgraceful amoral fraudster’ when he was jailed for six years and seven months for conspiracy to defraud at Chelmsford Crown Court.
He said: ‘You caused untold misery to decent, trusting people who had led blameless lives and who must have had their beliefs in human behaviour and decency shattered in the later stages of their lives to serve your grubby and selfish greed.’
Palmer was jailed for three years for conspiracy to defraud.
Barnes and Palmer were part of a ‘sophisticated operation’ which included Salter, Rogers and a third man Paul Masters, 60,
The gang were found guilty in August following a nine-week trial.
Salter was jailed for four years for fraud by false representation. Samantha Rogers, 38, was given an 18-month suspended sentence for the same charge.