POLICE have pledged to “track down and destroy” criminal gangs targeting vulnerable people, aiming to get their hands on their legitimate savings.

It follows the conviction of five “key players” from an organised crime group who defrauded victims in mainly rural areas out of thousands of pounds.

Between January and November 2018 gang members intercepted mail from victims, many of them elderly, living in rural areas of County Durham, North Yorkshire, and West Yorkshire.

Using information acquired from the stolen mail they created false identities to apply for credit and store cards.

It enabled them to secure credit for more than £164,000 and racked up tens of thousands of debts for the legitimate account holders, by buying luxury goods and funding extravagant living.

A major police investigation, led by the North East Regional Specialist Operations Unit (NERSOU) under Operation Sentinel, identified five key suspects, who targeted a total of 15 victims.

They were subsequently charged with conspiracy to defraud banks and credit card companies, together with other standalone fraud offences.

Three of the suspects, Vincent Zwoushe-Zhanje, Gray Gwewo, and Tacu Ndhlovu, admitted the offences.

But Raphael Munemo and Tendai Dlamini denied conspiracy to defraud and fraud and were found guilty following a three-day trial at Durham Crown Court, last week.

They all appeared back in court for the sentencing hearing, this week.

Munemo, 33, of Centenary Close, Nottingham, received a three-year prison sentence, while 41-year-old Dlamini, of Brunswick Street, Wakefield, was jailed for one year.

Zwoushe-Zhanje, 31, of Quarry Close, Ballygowan, Northern Ireland, received a two-year prison sentence suspended for two years, with 250 hours’ unpaid work.

Gwewo, 28, of Spencer Place, Leeds, and 29-year-old Ndhlovu, of Marks Close, Bedford, were both given 14-month prison sentences, suspended for two years, with 180-day unpaid work orders.

Zwoushe-Zhanje, Gwewo and Ndhlovu were each also ordered to complete 30 days of rehabilitation activity work with the Probation Service.

Read more: Rural homes in County Durham and North Yorkshire targeted by mail fraud gang

During the hearing, the investigation was praised by Judge Ray Singh, who commended the lead officer in the case, Detective Constable Suzie Hall, and data analyst Helen Walker, plus the wider NERSOU team for their investigation and, “impeccable case file.”  

Det Con Hall said: “This was a hugely complex investigation with victims and suspects spanning across several different counties and police force areas.

“We worked extremely hard to build a strong case against the gang to get justice for the victims, who have suffered significant financial loss as a result of the organised crime group’s persistent and predatory actions.

“Offending of this nature will not be tolerated and to those who think they can get away with targeting the communities that we serve - we will track you down, destroy your criminal networks and bring you to justice.”

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