Man jailed for targeting Harpenden elderly in series of distraction burglaries

Thomas Hannifin, 24, was sentenced to a total of 15 years and two months

Thomas Hannifin, 24, was sentenced to a total of 15 years and two months - Credit: Archant

A man who targeted elderly people in a series of distraction burglaries was jailed following an appearance at St Albans Crown Court yesterday (Thursday).

Thomas Hannifin, 24, of no fixed address, was sentenced to a total of 15 years and two months for robbery and conspiracy to burgle after a series of incidents, including two in Harpenden.

At one address Hannifin entered the property with two other robbers through a front door which had been left ajar and stated they were police officers.

The elderly victim was forced onto the sofa by one of the men, while two others stole cash.

At the other address in Harpenden the thieves forced entry into a property and stole cash and jewellery.

Hannifin targeted people, mostly in their 80s and 90s, across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey, and London, and was caught after an appeal on BBC’s Crimewatch.

The incidents occurred between August and October 2014, but Hannifin wasn’t caught until a week after the appeal was put out on the television programmed in March last year.

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In most cases the burglars would create a false reason, such as a burst pipe or repairing a water leak, to gain entry to the property and then steal jewellery and cash.

Hannifin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and robbery at an earlier hearing and was sentenced to 12 years for 20 distraction burglaries and three years and two months for robbery, to run consecutively.

The investigation was led by Herts Police’s specialist team ‘Operation Manhunt’. Det Insp Luke Whinnett from the operation said: “Hannifin deliberately and callously targeted some of the most vulnerable members of society for his own selfish gain.

“Thanks to the determination of the Operation Manhunt team and information from members of the public Hannifin is now behind bars, which I hope brings some comfort to his victims and their families. I am pleased that he has been handed a substantial sentence for his despicable behaviour.

“It is a sad fact that criminals like these will be operating across the country day to day and I would like to take this opportunity to advise people to be vigilant if an unexpected caller arrives at your home. Our advice is simple, if you aren’t sure, don’t open the door.”

Adrian Foster, chief crown prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “These criminals ruthlessly picked on the elderly and vulnerable, left a trail of destruction behind them, thought they were untouchable, and have had an enormous impact on communities in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, London, Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.”

He continued: “This case sends a clear message to those involved in this kind of criminality that we will robustly prosecute them to ensure that justice is done, and that they will pay with their liberty.”