No distracting Kay’s anti-burglary battle

DI Kay Lancaster who appears on the programme Married to the Job

DI Kay Lancaster who appears on the programme Married to the Job - Credit: Archant

DISTRACTION burglary is a crime that hits the most vulnerable in our society, but one woman and her team are determined to ensure this is a crime that won’t pay.

Detective Inspective Kay Lancaster, who grew up in Letchworth GC, recently appeared in the ITV documentary Married to the Job.

She juggle being a mother to two boys with overseeing five police departments with a total of 54 staff, one of which is Operation Manhunt.

The team of 12 staff are based at Hertfordshire’s headquarters in Welwyn Garden City and deal with distraction burglaries and dwelling burglaries where the victim is elderly or vulnerable.

She said: “Our department dedicates as much time to the finding the offender as it does to ensuring the victims are looked after at the time. We try to implement measures to ensure they do not become a victim again.

“We offer a care package - the benefits are endless, as we come across people who have bypassed society. They often haven’t got care in place, or family support, and are isolated from society. We find people with dementia who have never had medical assistance.”

Operation Manhunt is one of only three units in the country dedicated to this type of crime. It is proving a success, as distraction burglary has fallen by 60% in Hertfordshire in the last year and they are currently detecting 80% of distraction burglary crimes, compared to a national average of just 22%.

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Kay says: “Our detection rate is good because we are doing a lot of prevention work and have gained the public confidence - they feel they can report it more. We have good links with other agencies, like Age UK and Meals on Wheels, that also act as our eye and ears.

“People do not think, and distraction burglary and rogue trader offences have the same effect as perhaps violent crime, but the long-term psychological effects are huge – it becomes part of their life.

“We had a nasty incident of a rogue trader targeting a vulnerable male. It started with repairs to his house and ended up with him spending several hundreds of thousands of pounds of his life savings. He had to remortgage but could still lose his house.

“Never mind the material side of this; it’s the psychological affect it has had. We ensured he got the correct charities and medical support. We helped him with security measures and worked with the other agencies to ensure he got help. If he hadn’t been flagged up as a victim of crime he would have been missed off the radar.

“When you see these victims you cannot fail to be touched by any of them. We recently had three men sentenced; they had committed 45 distraction burglaries over nine police force areas in the South East. All the victims were in their 80’s and 90’s, the majority with serious health issues or living alone. They had stolen more than £25,000 from these victims, including things like family heirlooms and even a woman’s dead husband’s watch. Could you face this in your 80’s? What picture of society are you left with?

“A lot of victims blame themselves, but these people are charming, they are convincing. They will sometimes have the proper equipment, the proper uniform and even the proper badges. If anyone comes to your door, do not let them in unless you have made the checks.”

But Kay feels they winning the battle. “We are known in certain criminal fraternities and our prisoners have actually mentioned that they avoid Hertfordshire as a result,” she said.

“We joined the police force to help victims like these. With the public’s help, doorstep crime of this nature can continue to fall and we can raise awareness on society to look after the vulnerable and elderly as a community. That is my ideal.”