St Leonards man jailed for stealing from vulnerable victims

A St Leonards man who befriended elderly and vulnerable victims in order to steal from them has been jailed.

Police said Gareth Cooper targeted a number of victims at their home addresses in St Leonards, taking their money and electrical items. In some cases, he used a fictitious story about his 'dying' daughter' to get their sympathy before asking to borrow cash.

A police spokesman said Cooper's crime spree started on April 21, 2019, when he attended the home address of a vulnerable man who had carers visiting him regularly. Cooper portrayed himself as a substitute carer who was there to do the victim's shopping for him.

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The victim handed over some cash, according to police, but became suspicious when Cooper had not returned with the shopping and informed his real carer, who then contacted police.

Gareth Cooper. Picture: Sussex Police

Officers attended but after they left, Cooper returned to the victim's address asking for more money to cover the cost of the shopping and giving the victim a bank card as proof he would return.

When Cooper did return, the victim refused to open to door to him and contacted police. Officers secured CCTV footage from the building and from this, Cooper was identified and arrested, police said.

A spokesman for Sussex Police said: "During enquiries following his arrest, it was discovered the bank card Cooper had given to the first victim belonged to another man, who had made a report to police on April 22 of having had a number of visits from a stranger later identified as Cooper.

"Cooper had initially contacted his second victim out of the blue on April 19 asking for money so he could go to the Conquest Hospital where his daughter had been taken ill.

"The man trusted Cooper and handed over some cash. Cooper returned the next day and gave the man back his money, but continued to visit the victim over the next couple of days.

"Cooper persuaded the victim to hand over his tablet computer on the pretence of uploading photographs to it, but the victim later discovered his mobile phone and bank card had also been taken. When Cooper next paid a visit, he told the victim his daughter had died due to a bleed on the brain."

Cooper was interviewed by police and denied knowing either victim. He was released on bail but failed to return on the required date, police said.

During that time, on June 12, police received a report from a third man saying Cooper had attended his flat in the early hours of the morning, stating he was the police and tricking the man into opening his door.

Police added: "Cooper then forced the victim against a wall and stole his coat, keys and wallet containing a bank card.

"During a follow-up visit with Cooper's second victim, it was found that Cooper had been back to the address saying police had told him to return any outstanding property. He was allowed into the flat but soon after he left, the victim discovered his new bank card had been taken.

"Cooper was arrested for these new allegations, but released pending further enquiries.

"On June 21, police received a call saying Cooper had attended the flat of a fourth victim and removed a safe containing more than £1,000. The female victim told police this was the same man who had previously taken advantage of her vulnerabilities to take £400 from her for a taxi.

"Cooper was located a few streets away and arrested. He was positively identified by each of his victims during identity parades, and was seen in CCTV footage leaving the fourth address carrying the stolen safe."

Cooper, 38, unemployed, of Cloudesley Road, St Leonards, pleaded guilty to four burglaries, one robbery and a theft. He was sentenced to six years' imprisonment when he appeared in court on Thursday (May 14), Sussex Police confirmed.

Temporary detective sergeant Paul Elrick said: "Cooper cynically and systematically targeted the vulnerable and elderly for his own greedy benefit, making up stories like his daughter being gravely ill in hospital in order to earn trust and gain taxi money from his victims.

"I would like to thank all of Cooper's victims for providing evidence that has allowed him to be held accountable for his crimes, and for ensuring he is taken off the streets."