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, "23":"Doorstep crime In this feature l Operation Warwick l intelligence-led approach l lessons learned Black at heart Kidnapping, extortion and theft: how a family trio operating a rogue trading business was finally caught out by Highland Trading Standards. Kate Fontana gives a case history V ile brothers jailed over con jobs in city that was the headline that revealed three brothers had been sentenced to a total of five years imprisonment for conning Inverness residents out of thousands of pounds. The article reected the impact the brothers had had on their victims, and highlighted the work undertaken by Highland Trading Standards (Highland TS), working in partnership with Police Scotland Northern division in the first joint investigation of its kind in the region. Codenamed Operation Warwick, this partnership approach allowed these individuals to be targeted for a range of offences, which resulted in a report being submitted to the Procurator Fiscal in October 2013. The outcome would not have been possible without the use of such innovative working practices. In the beginning In 2010, Highland TS restructured, became intelligence-led, and through complaint analysis identified doorstep crime as a priority it had to tackle. The community safety team was tasked with delivering a strategy that allowed them to support victims proactively and take enforcement action against offenders, rather than firefight, as was the case historically. We know that doorstep criminals target the most vulnerable among us, and that many victims remain silent. The crime is vastly underreported. The most prolific offenders are itinerant traders covering the whole of the UK who belong to organised crime groups, and who are accomplished at hiding their identities and locations. They use local authority and national boundaries as a way of trying to avoid detection. Given the difficulties we, in trading standards, face when dealing with itinerant doorstep criminals, plus the resource available and the geographical spread of the Highland Council area, we realised we could not tackle this alone. We made contact with Police Scotlands Northern Intelligence Unit and Preventions and Interventions team, with a view to establishing partnership arrangements. It was agreed that to tackle this problem and better protect our community, our understanding, knowledge, use of powers and resources needed to be combined. This initial contact developed over time to include the following working practices: l Intelligence sharing between Highland TS and Police Scotland Northern Division l A trading standards enforcement bulletin, designed to integrate with daily, operational police bulletins, as a means of sharing information of current interest l Monthly joint tasking meetings, to agree action on intelligence received l A designated police contact officer for day-to-day issues l Regular doorstep crime training sessions for police officers and control-room staff l Regular contact with prevention officers, and shared resources when delivering educational and advice materials to community groups and individuals l Adult support and protection awareness training l Quarterly joint proactive operations, also involving other enforcement agencies, to detect criminal activity and deter the offenders from operating in the community l Joint Challenge Squads being deployed to engage with those conducting works on properties HIGHL AND TR ADING STANDARDS COMMUNIT Y SAFET Y TEAM Mark McGinty trading standards team leader Kate Fontana trading standards officer Lynne Bruce trading standards enforcement officer Operation Warwick Alexander Johnstone first came to the attention of Highland TS in June 2011, when complaints about shoddy exterior painting work demonstrated that he was also not providing the required cancellation notices, and raised concerns about possible aggressive practices. He was given advice and guidance but, at an early stage, he sought to frustrate the investigation by blaming one of his two brothers each of whom, Johnstone said, operated a property maintenance business before disappearing and then resurfacing under a different trading name. He stated that he had ceased trading and had moved out of the area. In December 2012, he signed an Enterprise Act undertaking to: provide the required cancellation notices, in the correct format; give refunds where due; and carry out work with reasonable care and skill. However, in 2013, Highland TS began to receive sporadic complaints about a W Johnston and a Peter Johnstone, both operating property maintenance businesses in a similar manner to Alexander Johnstone, using multiple addresses and phone numbers. We suspected that the three were interchanging identities to prevent detection but identity wasa key concern. In June 2013, Highland TS brought an intelligence package to the monthly tasking meeting. After discussion, it was agreed that Police Scotland would develop this by including all incidents reported to them from January 2012. A full case review was then undertaken. This resulted in the classification of three people James Johnstone, who was known to Highland TS as Alexander Johnstone, and two of hisbrothers, William and Peter, who were known as being involved in organised crime. It identified further serious potential offences, including kidnapping, extortion, fraud, theft, aggressive practices, misleading actions, misleading omissions, and failure to provide cancellation notices. Tasks were allocated that focused on the criminal activity at 19 addresses in Inverness. Identity was the key issue and, between them, the brothers had amassed 32 known aliases, and 13 dates of birth. Keyactions were agreed, including: l Joint preparation of a witness interview plan to ensure that full information was obtained l Revisiting all victims with photo boards and noting additional statements l Obtaining expert opinion on the quality and cost of any work carried out by the men l Financial investigation on the three and any associates l Joint preparation of an accused interview plan l Application for search warrants for two addresses, one garage and avehicle l Execution of warrants with Highland TS personnel l Highland TS as the corroborating officer in all interviews with the accused after their detention The decision was made, after the case review, to submit a joint report to the Procurator Fiscal, using Police Scotland as the lead reporting agency, with Highland TSs involvement and support identified, particularly in relation to the consumer protection offences. There was early and continuing contact between the reporting officer and Highland TS, and a subsequent report was submitted in October 2013. Considerable supporting information was also submitted, including: guidance on consumer protection legislation; the Moorov doctrine* and its applicability; and the general requirements and standards for a legitimate property maintenance trader. In addition to the photo boards, video identification parade electronic recording (Viper) was used to further establish the identities of those attending at each location. At one stage, the case was considered for High Court, with citations being issued for a sheriff and jury trial at Dingwall Sheriff Court in October 2014. But James Johnstone, 42, pleaded guilty to charges of extortion, common law fraud and theft, while his brothers, Peter Johnstone, 30, and William Johnstone, 35, both pleaded guilty to charges of common law fraud. These pleas were accepted at the start of the trial, which meant that none of their elderly or vulnerable victims were required to give evidence in court. PeterJohnstone (left) and James Johnstone The case review identified further serious potential offences, including kidnapping, extortion, fraud and theft THE VICTIM S Most of the Johnstone brothers victims were elderly. One man was in his 80s and nearly blind. A 76-year-old, recently widowed woman handed over money to have her wall painted. One of the brothers went to get the paint and began the work, but left when it started to rain and did not return. An 86-year-old woman said James Johnstone turned up at her door four times, demanding and receiving money for work that had not been carried out. She described him as menacing and he told her to get the money or else. When she went shopping for groceries, he waited outside by his van and she was so rattled she gave over all her remaining money to him. One relative, who was dissatisfied by the sentencing, said: Sadly, these despicable men wont serve enough time behind bars before they are allowed out to prey on other old folk. Its about time these cases were heard in the High Court, where sentences are more severe. These people should be off the streets for longer. These vile criminals rely on witnesses pulling out of trials because they are scared to testify or unable to remember enough to give evidence. Thankfully, [on this occasion] everybody stood firm until these cowards had no option but to plead guilty. Lessons learned Analysis of information and intelligence led to the linking of events through telephone numbers and vehicle registrations. This was particularly important when dealing with three closely related individuals, who were using multiple aliases and trading names along with familial similarity to obstruct any investigation. In addition, the analysis of collated information allowed us to substantiate the impact of illegal doorstep selling including contract price and victim detriment. Doorstep-crime incidents are often reported either to the police or trading standards, and partnership working arrangements and communication between both agencies is essential to identify a complete pattern of offending. Effective use has to be made of the relevant enforcement powers of each partner. For example, trading standards officers have power without warrant to enter commercial premises, while police officers can detain or arrest an offender. The proportionate and balanced use of these powers in joint operations has led to offenders being tackled for matters that previously were dealt with in a more fragmented way. Trading standards is a specialist reporting agency to the Procurator Fiscal. It has become evident, though, that police reporting of matters to the Procurator Fiscal is a less onerous and much faster process, and trading standards offences can be included within police reports. This method of reporting can be particularly beneficial when offenders may be required to appear from custody. The under-reporting by, and impact on, victims of doorstep crime has been well documented, but we still have to provide adequate support for victims at their time of need. The fact that Highland TS staff had undergone adult protection awareness and dementia training contributed to a greater understanding when dealing with victims, and the training was taken into account in the joint creation of the vulnerable witness interview plan. This ensured both consistency in factual recording of witness statements, and that the needs of the witnesses were taken into account. After discussions with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Highland TS has also begun the video recording of vulnerable witness statements. Staff members have been trained in accordance with police procedures and this together with the Plan above should minimise unnecessary stresses placed upon the witness, while maximising the evidence required to deal with an offender. Continual review of what has gone before must take place, to identify best practice and prevent unnecessary duplication and fragmentation of deployed front-line resource, allowing us to work more effectively to protect the local community. Most of the Johnstone brothers victims were elderly. One man was in his 80s and nearly blind *The Moorov doctrine is a mechanism in law that applies where a person is accused of two or more separate offences, connected in time and circumstances. www.scotlawcom.gov.uk Credits Published Kate Fontana is a trading standards officer Tuesday 6 January 2015 at Highland Trading Standards. Images: Dundanim / Shutterstock To share this page, click on in the toolbar "