A 39-year-old man who was arrested in England for a spate of bank card crimes committed against elderly shoppers across Northern Ireland has been given a 30-month sentence.
Catalin Sandhu, who is originally from Romania but whose address is Crowther Street in Wolverhampton, was told by Judge Gordon Kerr QC that he engaged in a “course of cynical and mean offending against victims picked specifically because they were old and vulnerable”.
Sandhu admitted seven counts of fraud by false representation, and one count of attempted theft from a person.
He will spend half of his sentence in prison, with the remainder spent on supervised licence upon his release from custody.
Belfast Crown Court heard the victims were six elderly women and one man who were targeted by Sandhu and a co-accused who has already been sentenced and is currently serving a jail term.
The total amount involved was just over £9,000, with the offences committed at supermarkets across Northern Ireland.
Crown prosecutor Robin Steer revealed Sandhu and his co-accused’s offending took place over a period spanning from May 17 to June 23 last year. In each instance, when elderly customers were using their bank cards to pay for goods at various supermarkets, one of the men would look over their shoulder to see what PIN number they were entering.
One of them would then approach the pensioner outside the supermarket, pretending they had dropped a bank note, or asking if they had change of a bank note. Under this pretext, the pensioner would then open their purse or wallet.
Mr Steer said that using a “sleight of hand”, Sandhu and his co-accused were able to remove the bank card in question from the unsuspecting pensioner. In each case, the card was “used immediately to withdraw the maximum amount of cash and also purchase groceries”.
Pensioners were targeted in this way at supermarkets in greater Belfast as well as Lisburn, Sprucefield, Lurgan, Craigavon and Carrickfergus. One of the cards was used in Drogheda.
The court heard that after CCTV was viewed from various stores in question, Sandhu was arrested in Staffordshire and brought back to Belfast, where he was interviewed about the offending. During a total of six interviews, Sandhu refused to answer any police questions.
Defence solicitor Matt Higgins said his client accepted the offences were “despicable”, adding he was “truly remorseful for his actions”.
Mr Higgins revealed that since his arrest and detainment, Sandhu has suffered a mental breakdown, and wishes to be transferred to an English prison.
The solicitor also said that despite having no money, when he is released Sandhu wants to work in a bid to raise funds and “repay the loss”.