Vicar catches out conmen posing as drainage workers to get cash from Ilford pensioners

Canon John Barnes is careful who he lets into his home

Canon John Barnes is careful who he lets into his home - Credit: Archant

A gang of conmen posing as drainage workers has been targeting pensioners in Ilford, including a retired vicar, for cash.

Canon John Barnes, who was vicar at St Mary the Virgin Church in High Road, Ilford, for 30 years, was almost caught out earlier this month.

The 81-year-old had just arrived back at his home in Henley Road, Ilford, when the group of “four or five” men knocked at his door on February 15.

They claimed to be from a drainage firm called by neighbours to a problem in pipes underneath his garden.

Canon Barnes said: “They said there was a real problem and they had cameras in the pipes.

“They told me that unless I acted quickly, the whole road would be flooded with sewage.

“It was so plausible because we have had problems with drainage here before, but when they asked for “holding money” in cash upfront, I knew something wasn’t right.”

Most Read

Canon Barnes said he “gradually realised” the drainage story was a ruse for obtaining cash when the men started asking details about his bank account and even to see his passport.

He added: “I got more and more stroppy because I knew they weren’t genuine and when they realised it was a lost cause, they left.”

Canon Barnes had led the men to the drains in his garden, leaving his house unattended.

After the bogus callers’ departure, he realised that they had been in his bedroom.

He said: “They searched my wardrobe but there was nothing to find. I didn’t lose anything, but it was all so plausible.

“These people are preying on the elderly. They think we’re a soft touch.”

A Thames Water spokesman said the company was warning customers after several reports of bogus callers in Ilford were made.

He said all employees have identification and residents can call a helpline if they suspect a con or set up a password for legitimate callers to use.

Redbridge Police are not investigating the incident at Canon Barnes’ home because “no allegation of a crime has been made”.

They advise residents to use a door chain and spy hole or look out of the window to check if callers are strangers.

The men are described as white and aged between 30 and 50, with London accents.

Residents can report bogus callers to the Citizens’ Advice consumer service for help and advice on 0845 040506.