Elderly targeted in distraction burglaries

Efit of a man police want to question following a burglary in Horsham.
Efit of a man police want to question following a burglary in Horsham.

Police are warning the public particularly the elderly to be on their guard after a series of distraction burglaries in Sussex in the last week, including two in Horsham.

The bogus callers have been calling at homes and asking to look at water and gas supplies saying there has been an explosion or contamination which has affected them. They ask the householder to turn on the taps or put on their gas appliances to check.

They keep the householder talking and close the kitchen or lounge door. An accomplice then goes upstairs and makes a search of the bedrooms. Victims have had large amounts of cash stolen.

Inspector Bill Whitehead said: “We need people to be aware that these bogus callers are targeting the elderly, using this particular line or story of water and gas supply contamination. They seem to be wearing some sort of ID cards around their neck.

“This a despicable crime preying on the more vulnerable members of our community. We are asking anyone who has seen these men calling at homes or in the area or any suspicious vehicles to call Sussex Police on 101 quoting Operation Inroad.

“We particularly need to get a description or registration number of a vehicle they must be using.”

Four distraction burglaries happened yesterday (Thursday June 14) in Horsham, Brighton and Lewes.

A man called at an elderly couple’s home in Milthorpe Road, Horsham, at about midday saying a gas pipe had been damaged and their gas and water supplies could be contaminated. While he distracted them in the kitchen by asking them to boil some water on the hob, it is believed an accomplice went upstairs. Later they found a substantial amount of money missing.

A man then called at the home of a 76-year-old woman in Newton Road, Lewes, at about 1.30pm. Her told her that the water supply was contaminated and her needed her to check it. He showed her an ID card. She felt suspicious and told him to leave. Nothing was stolen.

Police have released an efit of the suspect who called on Saturday June 9 at the home of a 97-year-old woman in Littlehaven Lane, Horsham. He told her the water supply maybe contaminated.

She let him into the kitchen and he distracted her while turning on the taps to run water. He then went into the lounge to look for any gas appliances. He then left. When she checked upstairs later she found a large amount of cash had been stolen from her bedroom.

He is described as being aged in his late 20s to early 30s, of thin build and was wearing dark trousers and a blue and white shirt. He had an ID card on a cord around his neck.

Yesterday, a house in Wilson Avenue, Brighton, was targeted next around 3pm by a man claiming that some ‘cowboy builders’ had broken a nearby gas main and again asked the victim to run some water and also to boil some to check that it wasn’t contaminated. At this point she became suspicious and when the man asked if he could return later she said no.

When he left, she checked with the gas supplier who advised that there was no emergency. She then called police. It appears that nothing was stolen from the property.

The man was described as white, 5ft 9in, late 20s to early 30s, of slim build with short black hair and wearing a white shirt with navy stripes and dark blue trousers.

At around 3.30pm a man knocked on the door of an elderly woman’s home in Stephen’s Road, Brighton, and said that there had been an explosion ‘in the dip’ and that as a result water would need to be run off and put into containers as it would be turned off for a day or two. At one point he went upstairs to check the bathroom and toilet and then left saying that he would be back in about an hour. The woman then discovered that he had been in her bedroom and a significant quantity of cash had been stolen.

This man is described as white, English, of slim build, in his 30s, with short, very dark brown or black hair and wearing a white shirt with dark coloured trousers. He told the victim that he had two children.

On both occasions, the suspect was wearing some form of identity card in a plastic sleeve, but the details were not distinguishable.

On Friday June 8 a man called at a 90-year-old woman’s house is Castlefields, Hartfield, at 6.30pm. He said the water and gas supplies in the area maybe contaminated and he needed to check them. After distracting her and telling her she needed a new part for her fire, he left. She later found draws and wardrobes upstairs had been opened and items moved around. Nothing appeared to be stolen.

Insp Whitehead said: “Householders should closely check ID badges before allowing anyone into their home and if they are in any doubt, refuse entry until they have made checks with the company. Any genuine caller won’t mind waiting and will provide a telephone number - not a mobile - for you to call.”