Shop owner fleeced customers and friends of £150,000

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A 53-year-old shop owner who preyed on friends and vulnerable elderly customers alike, fleecing them of “tens of thousands of pounds” has been sentenced to a total of three years.

Belfast Crown Court heard that George Henry Patrick Crossett, whose eldest victim was 91, took just short of £150,000 from them over a two-year period with his sob stories of being in “dire trouble” or under death threat.

Judge Gordon Kerr QC told the bankrupted Crossett his was “one of the most serious cases of fraud I have come across in this jurisdiction”.

However, he added later while such offending normally attracted a sentence of six years, on a contest, he was entitled to credit for his guilty pleas, but more importantly for the delay in the case, with some of the offences dating back seven or eight years.

Crossett from Lyndhurst Drive in north Belfast, pleaded guilty to a total of 17 fraud charges and five of theft, committed between 2011 and 2013.

Judge Kerr said that when Crossett found himself in financial difficulities, “to obtain monies he preyed on his customers and on older people in the area ... taking their monies from them knowing all too well he would not be paying them back”.

Quoting from a victim impact report, Judge Kerr said it showed the extent of Crossett’s frauds and his behaviour in being prepared to prey on the vulnerable and elderly on Belfast’s Shankill Road, where he operated an electrical shop.

The statement, supplied by the daughter of two of his victims, told how they were left devastated, which “literally knocked their confidence”. Her father died blaming himself “because he thought he had let the family down”.

The statement also told how Crossett, even after fleecing his victims, would often turn up at their home “unannounced and uninvited”.

Prosecution counsel Philip Henry had told the court there were a number of “recurring themes” to Crossett’s offending, “often targeting the most vulnerable and elderly” many in poor states of health or even suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Crossett, said Mr Henry, had his “set stories” backed with extraordinary promises of repaying them within weeks, and large amounts in interest, which would double their monies.

He claimed he needed funds to restock after break-ins, or to invest in buying up stock at knockdown prices.

Then after getting their sympathies, he would drive them to their banks to collect their cash. On occasions he would also talk the same victim into handing over even more monies, all of which they never saw again.

Mr Henry said that the promises Crossett gave to his victims, like the written receipts he gave as he pocketed their cash, were worthless.

Defence lawyer Charles MacCreanor QC said that what might have started out with Crossett borrowing monies with the thought of paying them back “rapidly became a criminal offence”.

However, Mr MacCreanor said that “it was obvious all of this was always going to come back to his door”, and that he would have to face that “difficult day” of being sentenced.

“He has done all of this and hurt all of these people and he is going to jail for it,” said counsel.