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Crime

Over £2.5M lost to romance fraud last year in Sussex

Sussex Police are supporting a national Action Fraud warning to the public to spot the signs of romance fraud ahead of Valentine’s Day.

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Reports made to Action Fraud reveal that nationally a staggering £50,766,602 was lost to romance fraud in 2018 – an average of £11,145 per victim and a 27% increase on the previous year.

In Sussex during 2018, 157 victims lost a total of £2,561,906, with an average loss of £16,318 – sadly 127 out of 157 attempts succeeded. 61% live of victims alone and their average age is 65.

PC Bernadette Lawrie BEM, Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex & Surrey Police said:

“Romance fraud, accounts for 10% of all vulnerable victim fraud reports across our counties and is one of the most despicable crimes we see, with the devastating and lasting impact it has on victims going far beyond the financial loss.

“Victims are targeted and exploited when they are at their most vulnerable and the complex tactics and deceitful tales that lure the victims into parting with such huge sums of money are quite astonishing. One of the most difficult conversations we have is telling a victim that not only will they not see their money come back but that the person they believe they are in a relationship with and are looking forward to a future with, is in fact a criminal posing under a false identity.”

“The involvement of two case workers, funded by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner (SPCC) Katy Bourne, and working through Victim Support, who support vulnerable victims who have been systematically targeted by criminals, is a valuable addition to to our efforts, in particular in relation to romance fraud.”

The pair follow up on referrals from Operation Signature, Sussex Police’s project which identifies and support vulnerable victims of fraud.

Katy Bourne said;

“I’m very proud to have funded these case workers. They have achieved so much, offering invaluable emotional support as well as practical advice to some of our most vulnerable residents. It’s particularly heartening that out of the hundreds of clients they have supported, so little have been referred back to them. This really does show the valuable work they are doing to enable people to better protect themselves from future victimisation.”

Detective Inspector Mark O’Brien of the Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit said;

Operation Signature is the Sussex Police campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud across the county. Fraud is becoming more complex and deceptive, and much of it is targeted at vulnerable and elderly people.

The force has a process for recognising victims of all fraud as victims of crime and providing preventative measures to support and protect them from further targeting. This can include helping them to change their phone number to an ex-directory number, contacting family to suggest Power of Attorney, mail re-direction, offering them advice on call blocking devices and referring them to other support services.”

Police also raise awareness of the issue within local communities through local Prevention teams, and news and social media, encouraging people to take preventative steps.

Police advice is; never send or give money to anyone you don’t know or trust; check people are who they say they are; don’t share your personal information; make decisions in your own time; and if in doubt phone a relative or a friend.

For further information about Operation Signature see the Sussex Police website

For further information about the Action Fraud campaign see their website.

Crime

Man who strangled and beat 17-year-old Crawley girl convicted

An engineer from Partridge Green has been convicted of violent and sexual attacks on two women after a Sussex Police investigation.

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Neil Scott-O’Connor, 23, a household appliance engineer, was convicted at Hove Crown Court on Thursday (28 November) after a 14-day trial, of;

– six offences against a 29-year old woman at an address in Brighton on dates between September 2018 and January 2019; one offence of threats to kill, one of attempted strangulation with intent to commit a sexual offence, two offences of causing actual bodily harm, and one of harassment with intent to cause fear;
– three offences against a 17-year-old girl at his address in Partridge Green in December 2018; one offence of attempted strangulation with intent to commit a sexual offence and two of causing actual bodily harm.

He was found not guilty of one offence of causing actual bodily harm to the 29-year old woman.

He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The prosecution, authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service, followed an investigation by detectives from both the West Sussex Investigations team and the Brighton Safeguarding Investigation Unit (SIU).

Scott-O’Connor had his own business an emergency appliance repair man, driving around Sussex fixing appliances in houses or in businesses.
Police first became aware of Scott-O’Connor’s offending when the 17-year-old woman from Crawley came forward. She had extensive bruising on her body and reported that she had been strangled almost to the point of unconsciousness by someone she had met on Facebook, during their first date. This man was Scott-O’Connor. He was arrested in December 2018 and was released on bail whilst an investigation began.

The scope of his sexualised offending soon became apparent when the 29-year-old woman from Brighton then came forward reporting similar attacks and non-consensual strangulation during their short relationship.

She too had photographs of extensive bruising and injuries inflicted by him. When the relationship ended Scott-O’Connor made multiple threats to the victim which included him threatening to burn her house down, to cut the brake lines on her car, and shoot her and her two-year-old son. Fearing he was capable of carrying out these threats she immediately reported him to police. He was further arrested and interviewed during which he continued to deny any wrong doing.

Officers conducted a thorough examination of his mobile phone and revealed a wealth of information including an Amazon shopping list of weapons and restraints, hundreds of screenshots of female Facebook profiles and the purchase of tracking devices. His Internet search history raised concern further, as did his choice of horror movies depicting rape and torture.

Detective Sergeant Andy Ricks said;

“I am extremely pleased with this result. My team,including Investigator Gary Campbell, and Detective Constable Tracey Dixon from the Brighton SIU, worked tirelessly to build a solid evidential case over the past year. Neil Scott-O’Connor posed a significant risk, luring his victims into relationships through charm and flattery, in one case via social media, then turning to violence and fear to act out his dark sexual fantasies.

“His obsession with strangulation was a common feature in the investigation and it’s only by good fortune that one of his victims was not killed. As Counsel for the prosecution, Richard Hearndon said of Scott-O’Connor; “…during strangulation he literally had their life in his hands”.

“We would also like to thank the victims for having the courage to come forward and support us in putting this dangerous offender behind bars.”

Scott-O’Connor was remanded in custody for pre-sentence reports, prior to sentencing on 17 January 2020.

For information about support and advice available to victims see the Sussex Police website.

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