St Leonards thief who made up story about ‘dying daughter’ jailed

A man has been jailed for six years after admitting a series of offences where he targeted elderly and vulnerable victims to steal from.

Police said Gareth Cooper, 38, of Cloudesley Road, began his crime spree in April 2019, where he posed as a substitute carer when he arrived at a vulnerable man’s home claiming he was there to do his shopping for him.

The victim became suspicious when Cooper failed to return after he handed over some cash and informed his real carer, who then contacted police.

The offender later returned to the victim’s address asking for more money to cover the cost of the shopping, which he took in exchange for his bank card which he offered as collateral.

Officers said the victim refused to open to door to Cooper on his return, and contacted police, who later arrested him.

It was also discovered that the bank card given to the first vicitim belonged to another man, who reported a number of visits from a stranger later identified as Cooper.

This second victim was initially contacted by the 38-year-old when he asked for money to go see his sick daughter at Conquest Hospital, according to police.

Cooper returned the money but continued to visit, and eventually persuaded the victim to hand over his tablet on the pretence of uploading photographs to it.

The victim later discovered his mobile phone and bank card had also been taken.

When Cooper next paid a visit, he told the victim his daughter had died due to a bleed on the brain, according to officers.

Cooper denied knowing either victim and was released on bail, but failed to return on the required date.

During a follow-up visit with the second victim, it was found that Cooper had returned to the address and said police told him to return any outstanding property.

The victim discovered his new bank card had been taken after Cooper was allowed into his flat.

On June 12, police received a report from a third man saying that Cooper had attended his flat in the early hours of the morning, stating he was the police and thus tricking the man into opening his door.

Police said the victim was then forced against a wall before having his coat, keys and wallet stolen.

Cooper was arrested for these new allegations, but released pending further enquiries.

It was then reported to police on June 21 that Cooper had attended the flat of a fourth victim and removed a safe containing more than £1,000.

The female victim said this was the same man who previously took advantage of her in order to get £400 for a taxi.

Officers said Cooper was then located a few streets away and arrested; he was later identified by each of his vicitms.

The 38-year-old pleaded guilty to four burglaries, one robbery and a theft.

He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment when he appeared in court on Thursday (May, 14).

DS Paul Elrick said:

“Cooper cynically and systematically targeted the vulnerable and elderly for his own greedy benefit, making up stories like his daughter being gravely ill in hospital in order to earn trust and gain taxi money from his victims.

“I would like to thank all of Cooper’s victims for providing evidence that has allowed him to be held accountable for his crimes, and for ensuring he is taken off the streets.

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