A neighbour of Joan Barnett said she “lost all interest in life” after being targeted in her own home by the criminal gang.
Speaking after yesterday’s hearing at Newcastle Crown Court, the neighbour said: “Joan was a strong and independent woman as well as kind and generous.
“I had known Joan for about 15 years and she had become an unofficial grandparent to my children.
“She loved children and she would always give them presents for Christmases and birthdays.
“After the incident in August 2014, we would visit her in hospital, but she seemed to have lost all interest in life.
“She was no longer the chatty, happy person I had come to know over the years.
“Joan’s death was upsetting and shocking to the whole of our community, so we all came together to give her the funeral she deserved.
“This has had a huge impact on us all in the community.”
Three of the gang – Orton, Michael Gales and Davidson – were sentenced at Teesside Crown Court last September for two other similar offences committed around the same time in Middlesbrough, which Judge Sloan said appeared to be the “tip of the iceberg” when the greater picture became clear through investigations.
Christoper Knox, prosecuting, told the court: “They agreed to operate together as a group of fraudsters posing as builders and roofers and set out to defraud householders, but particularly old people.
“There is no evidence of them carrying out any bona fide work or notion this was a reputable builder’s, there is no evidence they were proper builders.”
Judge Sloan told them: “These were despicable cases of criminal conduct.
“It was planned and premeditated and used a fraudulent enterprise. It involved sophistication to change transport in order to avoid detection.”