‘Despicable’ builder jailed for preying on vulnerable pensioners

PRISON: Nathan ONeil

PRISON: Nathan ONeil

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A builder who stole from a former Mayor of Preston and defrauded another pensioner out of thousands of pounds has been jailed for more than two years.

Nathan O’Neil was told by a judge that his behaviour involving the vulnerable elderly men was “despicable”.

TRICKED: Albert Richardson

TRICKED: Albert Richardson

Liverpool Crown Court heard that 30-year-old O’Neil, a member of the travelling community, had committed 35 previous offences and served three years for a distraction burglary involving another pensioner.

Helen Richardson, prosecuting, said that in October O’Neil called at the Preston home of 79-year-old ex-mayor Albert Richardson, who was a councillor for more than 30 years and in 2014 was made an Honorary Alderman.

He quoted him £1,750 for roofing repairs and this work began, before Mr Richardson’s concerned nephew heard what was going on.

He had installed a security camera in the property after a previous incident and, when the footage was viewed, the victim was seen counting out the £1,750.

But when Mr Richardson, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, was not looking, O’Neil took £300 of it and put it in his back pocket and Mr Richardson was tricked into adding another £300 to the payment.

In an impact statement, nephew Simon Richardson described his uncle as kind and caring and said he felt “disgusted” that someone had treated him in such a way.

Albert Richardson served on Preston Council for 35 years, and was mayor in 1990 to 1991, and 2010 to 2011.

Miss Richardson said that in July 2013 O’Neil quoted another 79-year-old man in Guildford Road, Walton, Liverpool, £75 to repair some plasterwork which he accepted.

But he then kept returning, claiming that more and more work was needed in the house, altogether totalling £21,900, and the pensioner borrowed £15,800 from a friend to pay the bill.

When the police were ultimately contacted and an independent surveyor inspected the house, he assessed the work carried out to be worth just £2,000.

O’Neil, of Redrose Caravan Park, Broad Lane, Formby, pleaded guilty to fraud and theft and was jailed for a total of two years and 24 weeks.

In mitigation, the judge, Recorder Stephen Bedford, heard that O’Neil, who is now a recovering alcoholic, had had significant problems with alcohol and substances.

He was doing building work for various people but lost his driving licence and other people from the travelling community started driving him around.

He was frightened of them, having earlier been stabbed nine times in Scotland, which landed him in hospital for some time.

The work he did initially in Walton was legitimate but it was then taken over by these men, who he refused to name.

The court heard that he grabbed the money belonging to Mr Richardson “when he saw the opportunity”.

Coun Veronica Afrin, who represents St Matthew’s ward on Preston Council, where Mr Richardson had also served, described the outcome in court as a “good result”.

She said: “If there are people behaving like this around the area, I hope people take note and keep themselves safe.

“I think it’s a good result, and I congratulate the family who contributed to bringing this man to justice.”