Callous pair fleeced lonely
A COUPLE who befriended elderly victims before fleecing them of almost all their wealth were branded “callous and cowardly” as they were jailed yesterday.
Twisted Christopher Barnes, 42, and partner Lucy Palmer, 35, stood to pocket a staggering £635,000 after targeting frail and vulnerable pensioners in a sophisticated twoyear scam.
They manipulated the emotions of lonely victims by striking up friendships, with mother-of-five Palmer taking on the role of carer.
The couple, who have now separated, even recruited their children to act as surrogate families for some of their five victims – two of whom have since died.
Barnes, of Tilbury, Essex, launched his criminal enterprise just a month after being released from jail in September 2014.
He had been convicted of fleecing two vulnerable pensioners out of £150,000.
The court heard Barnes presented himself to victims as a “substantial and respectable” gardener and builder – often telling them urgent structural work was needed.
Barnes “grossly overcharged” for the unnecessary work before befriending victims and going on to empty their bank accounts.
Prosecutor Anwar Nashashibi told Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex: “Mr Barnes played the leading role in this conspiracy. He devised the strategies that were used on each victim. Mr Barnes is a man who is capable of being very charming and convincing.
“He targeted elderly people because they are often lonely, anxious for affection and willing to trust. He formed personal relations with his victims. He used these relationships to obtain more property from victims in a number of ways.
“In doing so he exploited their emotional vulnerability and told them numerous lies.”
One victim he befriended Veronica Mills, 79.
After winning her confidence, he brought in Palmer, who would take Mrs Mills out for lunch and on shopping trips.
The couple called her Nan, told was Victim William Clark before the fraud, above, and later after he got cancer and refused treatment
her that they loved her and bought her gifts, the court heard.
They appeared to become so close that Mrs Mills’ relationship with her son broke down and he moved out of the property.
Barnes then persuaded Mrs Mills to transfer her £185,000 home in Clacton, Essex, to him and change her will – cutting out her son.
She was later held in a caravan where she was not allowed to make contact with her family after the couple moved into her bungalow.
Her nephew discovered she was missing after visiting her home – and claims he was confronted by Barnes brandishing a handgun.
Another victim was Victor Borley, 74. He had been desperately ill and has since died.
He agreed to apply for his pension to be converted into a lump sum of £117,000 to hand to Barnes after his bank accounts had been emptied.
Jurors were shown haunting video evidence featuring Mr Borley and vulnerable widower William Clark, 85, who has also died after getting cancer.
Mr Clark, was approached by Barnes soon after the conman’s release from prison.
The fraudster then brought in Palmer to cook and clean for him and charged Mr Clark £105,000 for cladding his house and replacing his lawn with astroturf.
Another couple, Damien Salter, 30, and mother-of-eight Samantha Rogers, 38, went on to defraud Mr Clark of £38,000 after Barnes and Palmer suddenly vanished.
Yesterday Judge Jonathan Seely branded Barnes a “disgraceful amoral fraudster” who cynically targeted “the most vulnerable