cruel crime | 

'Despicable' serial thief who stole from 96-year-old woman jailed for 42 months

Brian Paul Ward's crimes were described as 'despicable, cowardly and mean offences.'

Brian Paul Ward

Paul Higgins

An habitual thief who “ruthlessly exploited” opportunities to steal money from elderly victims was today handed sentences totalling 49 months.

Ordering 39-year-old Brian Paul Ward to serve half the sentences in jail and the same period on licence, the Recorder of Belfast Judge Stephen Fowler QC described his crimes as “despicable, cowardly and mean offences.”

The Belfast Crown Court Judge, sitting in Antrim, said while he accepted Ward had not deliberately set out to deliberately target the elderly and vulnerable, when an opportunity presented itself during his Modus Operandi of “cold calling” at houses, “he would exploit each and every opportunity to steal and cheat people.”

“There was a degree of planning but being presented with elderly victims, their obvious vulnerability was no deterrent to his dishonest nature,” said the judge, warning that such offending “must be visited by significant custodial sentencing…which necessarily includes an element of deterrence.”

At an earlier hearing Ward, with an address at Mill Race in Belfast, had entered guilty pleas to charges of theft and burglary arising from two separate incidents on 3 December 2020 and 31 March 2021.

Taking the incident in chronological order, Judge Fowler outlined how Ward called at the home of an 83-year-old lady claiming he was “there about the roof.”

Coincidentally, the lady had made arrangements to get a roof leak fixed so assumed the defendant was that person, brought him inside and took him upstairs to show him the stained chimney breast.

Ward told her it would cost £100 to fix and when he saw her take that amount from a drawer containing a total of £700, he asked for a further £100.

“She refused, put the rest of the money back into the drawer and went downstairs, believing the defendant was behind her,” said the judge but he added that instead, Ward was taking the cash and the pensioner discovered the theft after he left.

Turning to the latter incident in March last year Judge Fowler said that again, Ward had been cold calling at houses when he went to the Newtownabbey home of a 96-year-old lady claiming he believed she “had a leak” and that he was “from the council.”

“By chance, she did have a faulty boiler and thought he was there to fix it,” said the judge who continued that having “tricked his way into her home,” Ward went upstairs.

The elderly lady was concerned about the length of time he was taking so using her stair lift, she went upstairs to check and on seeing Ward “coming out of a bedroom, she told him her daughter was on her way.”

Ward however “pushed past this elderly lady, almost knocking her out of her stair lift” and stealing her purse, he left her unhurt but “shaken” by the incident.

He was arrested for that incident when forensics were able to extract his DNA profile from a baseball hat the thief left behind while in the earlier incident, cops seized CCTV from other properties and the victim was able to identify him from his Facebook profile picture.

While the 83-year-old still lives in her home, she has been left “feeling less safe and anxious” said Judge Fowler who revealed that sadly, Ward’s 96-year-old victim no longer lives independently, “has lost her confidence and has nightmares” about the incident when she was almost pushed down the stairs.

Judge Fowler said those victims had been offended against “in the most egregious nature” but in addition to those offences, Judge Fowler was also dealing with appeals in seven other cases where Ward had been handed jail sentences of seven months for a series of shoplifting and fraud offences.

The fraud, said the judge, also related to an elderly victim - an 84-year-old woman from whom Ward stole £100 from her purse.

The vulnerabilities of the victims who were targeted in their own homes was an aggravating feature, said Judge Fowler, adding fang although Ward had admitted his guilt and had not used any weapons in the offences, “there would be little need of a weapon to terrorist a 96-year-old.”

Imposing a 42 month sentence for the theft and burglary, he also imposed a seven month sentence for the thefts and fraud, ordering the sentences to be served consecutively.

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