Pensioner left sleeping on streets after gang steal Walderslade home in cruel con
A pensioner was left
penniless after a fraud involving Alfred Ball (left), Billy Smith
and Richard Smart
by Keith Hunt
A pensioner was left homeless and penniless after rogue traders
conned him into selling his bungalow and pocketed about
Retired engineer Robert Breen, from Medway, ended up
sleeping rough for 10 weeks before going into a refuge. He is now
reduced to living in a bedsit, his savings and prized possessions
Five men and a woman have now been jailed for almost 20
years for offences a judge called "utterly despicable".
Ringleader Alfred Ball, 39, was given the longest sentence of
eight-and-a-half years. He had committed similar offences before
and been jailed for seven years.
Billy Smith, 25, and Richard Smart, 25, were each sentenced to
four-and-a-half years, William King, 52, to 12 months and
grandmother Cheri Strugnell, 59, and Andrew Cole, 38, to six months
Ball, of no fixed address; Smith, of Moorhen Walk, Greenhithe;
and Smart, of Heath Road, Netherton, Dudley, West Midlands, all
admitted conspiracy to defraud.
King, of Purley Green Road, Egham, Surrey; Strugnell, of Percy
Bryant Road, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex; and Cole, of
Christchurch Drive, Blackwater, Camberley, Hampshire; all denied
money laundering, but were convicted.
The home Robert Breen was
cheated out of in Blackthorn Avene, Walderslade
Bridget Todd, prosecuting, said Ball, aided by Smith and Smart -
Strugnell's son - persuaded Mr Breen, 66, to sell his two-bedroom
bungalow in Blackthorn Avenue, Walderslade, on the pretence of the
proceeds being invested in a business opportunity involving public
"In fact, there was no business opportunity and Alfred Ball and
Billy Smith walked off with the proceeds of the sale of almost
£100,000 themselves," Miss Todd told Maidstone Crown Court.
Smart probably only gained a few pounds "for his trouble", but
knew what was afoot and witnessed the transfer of the property,
signing the deed and leaving his fingerprint on the document.
Ball, Nelson and Smart had carried out sub-standard block paving
work at the victim's home in January 2011 after cold-calling him.
He was charged about £30,000.
"They had taken Mr Breen into their trust and groomed him for
"He was living a happy retirement having been made redundant. He had savings and no debts. He ended up homeless..." – Judge Martin Joy
r, final act of
fraud, which was to relieve him of his home," said Miss Todd.
Two cheques for "extras" were written out by Mr Breen. One was
made out to King for £11,000. He paid it into his account and it
was then drawn out for Ball. King took a few hundred pounds.
The second cheque was made out to Strugnell for £10,400. It was
again withdrawn and Strugnell kept about £1,400. A third cheque was
made out to Cole for £7,000 and withdrawn.
Passing sentence, Judge Martin Joy said: "The court has to deal
with you for offences that arise from an utterly despicable fraud.
The facts are deeply disturbing.
"The fraud on the hapless Mr Breen resulted in him losing all
his worldly goods. This was property that was worth £200,000. It
was taken from him and all of his savings were removed from
"He literally lost all his worldly goods."
The victim gave evidence at the trial of King, Strugnell and
Cole and it was clear he was utterly traumatised.
"He was living a happy retirement having been made redundant. He
had savings and no debts. He ended up homeless. He was utterly
The judge said Ball's previous convictions for similar offences
were "very aggravating". There had to be immediate imprisonment for
all six, he added.
The case was heard at
Maidstone Crown Court
Bachelor Mr Breen told in a victim statement how he had been
left devastated by the con.
He described himself as trusting, believing a person's word was
their bond, but said he was probably too trusting, especially when
it came to the man he knew as Fred Winter, also known as Alfred
"Never in my lifetime would I have realised that having agreed
to carry out work on my bungalow, it would have a catastrophic,
personally and financially, impact on my life," he said.
"The court is well aware how he groomed and manipulated me over
a number of months to gain my trust so that I would agree to
various building works being carried out.
"I took him at his word. I only agreed to sell the bungalow quickly because he offered me the
chance to invest in his company. He promised the investment was
safe and would be returned with profits in due course.
"Never has a promise been so worthless and wrong, so hollow.
Fred and his associates saw me as just another meal ticket to be
deceived, cheated and stripped of my worth.
"Within 10 months of them entering my life, I lost everything -
my savings, my home my investment."
Mr Breen said he was lucky the weather was kind to him when he
ended up sleeping rough.
"I was lonely, scared, vulnerable and miserable," he added. "I
was angry with myself. I didn't know who to turn to."
Mr Breen said he did not realise the police were looking for
him. They eventually found him in September 2011 and put him into a
homeless refuge in Medway.
"I was stupid and feel embarrassed that I was tricked," he
added. "However, I now want to sort out my life and get over
everything that has happened."
Mr Breen said: "I have many happy memories of living in
Blackthorn Avenue and neither Fred nor anyone else can take those
memories from me."
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