“Merciless” burglar jailed for targeting pensioners

A man who posed as a council gardener to trick his way inside pensioners’ homes and steal thousands has been jailed for six years following a West Midlands Police investigation.

'Heartless' John McDonald crept inside an 85-year-old woman’s home in Quarry Bank on 14 November 2017 under the pretence of being sent to repair fencing – but then snatched £3,000 in cash from a drawer when the lady’s back was turned. Then, on 7 January last year, he pocketed £460 from an 86-year-old Walsall man after claiming he needed the money to complete gardening work. The trusting pensioner handed over the cash before McDonald walked away.

They were two in a series of callous distraction burglaries that emerged either side of Christmas 2017 and led West Midlands Police to launch an investigation called Operation Doorstop to catch the culprit.

One saw an 86-year-old Brierley Hill woman lose £2,500 to a thief who’d entered her garden claiming to be trimming a neighbour’s overhanging branches, while around £10,000 in cash was stolen from an 81-year-old Netherton man on 5 January. Detectives trawled CCTV and, through police intelligence, identified 44-year-old McDonald as a likely suspect; he was placed as wanted on national police systems and arrested on 28 February 2018.

McDonald, from Booth Street in Blakenhall, was charged with six distraction burglaries and one count of fraud when it’s claimed he purported to be working for Severn Trent Water to gain access to an 86-year-old woman’s house in Lower Gornal. However, prosecutors accepted his two guilty burglary pleas in relation to offences on 14 November and 7 January with the other charges withdrawn. 

At Wolverhampton Crown Court this week, he was jailed for four years, plus an additional two years for a fraud in Blakeley Close, Sutton Coldfield, back in March 2015 when he took £100 from a woman after falsely claiming to have cleared her guttering.

Investigating officer, Detective Constable Sean Lowe, described McDonald as a “merciless” thief who thought nothing of preying on elderly, vulnerable victims. He added:

“He deliberately targeted vulnerable residents, ones he believed would fall for his lies and be trusting enough to let him into their homes. He’s admitted three offences but we suspect he has been responsible for several more offences and deprived pensioners of their savings. 

“Elderly residents are far safer knowing that McDonald is now behind bars and out of harm’s way.”

And DC Lowe urged family, friends and neighbours of elderly residents to remind them never to allow strangers into their homes. He said:

“Never allow unsolicited callers into your home – especially people arriving unannounced claiming to be a council worker, police officer or from a utility company – and use a door chain if you have one. 

“Check identity badges thoroughly and if in doubt call a friend or family member for advice. ‘If in doubt, keep them out’ is a motto that people should still adhere to.”

For more advice search ‘distraction burglary’ on the West Midlands Police website.


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