‘Serial thief’ who conned women out of £68,000 is jailed

Peter Berry, photo provided by Sussex Police
Peter Berry, photo provided by Sussex Police

A man who befriended and then defrauded three women out of a total of £68,000 has been sentenced to eight years imprisonment following an investigation by Sussex Police.

Peter Berry, 51, unemployed, of New Forest Drive, Brockenhurst, Hampshire, was convicted and sentenced at Inner London Crown Court on Thursday (December 7) after a four-day trial.

Berry was convicted of fraud by false representation against a 66-year-old woman from East Preston, 51-year-old Swindon woman, and a 36-year-old Southampton woman.

Following a five-year sentence at Truro Crown Court in 2010 for similar offences, Berry, who police say uses many aliases including John Berry, John Smith, James Smith and John Keady, had been released from prison on licence in September 2012 and went to live in Sea Place, East Preston.

A Sussex Police spokesperson said within weeks he met the first of his new victims in October 2012 and continued his criminal activities, befriending that victim on a dating website, one at a kayaking club weekend, and a next door neighbour.

Once he gained their trust Berry then manipulated and charmed the three victims into lending him thousands of pounds for non-existent business deals, without any security whatsoever, said the spokesperson.

They gave him amounts of £15,000, £35,000, and £18,000 respectively, and have never seen the money since.

In January 2014, after his new suspected activities came to the attention of the authorities, a prison licence notice was issued for his recall to prison.

The spokesperson said officers went to his flat in East Preston but although it was clear that the suspect had lived there – as post was in his name, mouldy food, and clothes in the washing machine – Berry had gone.

A VW car transporter found in the car park at the flats, registered in the name of the suspect and with the registration K666YAK was also seized as it had belonged to a company with whom Berry had a credit agreement. This has been given back to the company.

Berry was placed on an all ports alert and circulated as wanted for recall to prison and fraud. Details were also released to the news media including the BBC Crimewatch Roadshow.

On 10 October 2015 police received information that the he was living in Lyndhurst in the New Forest, and had been recognised from the Crimewatch publicity.

Police went to the address and arrested a man who at first gave a name of Jonathon Jasper John and said that they had the wrong man, then stated that he had changed his name by deed poll.

Once at the custody centre in Lyndhurst the suspect admitted he was Peter Berry and a fingerprint check also confirmed that he was the man officers were looking for.

Whilst on the run he had married another woman who he had met via a dating website. His wife had no knowledge of his history and not made any criminal allegations against Berry.

Police say on being interviewed Berry made no comment to all questions put to him about his relationship with the victims, or where the money had gone.He stuck to his not guilty plea right up to and throughout his trial.

PC Astra Barnes of Sussex Police said: “Berry has once again shown that he is a very plausible and convincing thief. He has a perverse skill in identifying women who have independent means and savings, but who can still be vulnerable to his specious charm.

“We are glad that the court has recognised the seriousness of his repeated offending and we would like to thank the three victims who have shown great courage in giving evidence and have maintained their confidence in us to find this man and bring him to justice.

“He can come across as genuine and personable, but in reality he is a serial thief.

“Our advice to anyone approached by someone you have recently met and do not really know, and who asks you for money, is always to be very cautious.

“Stop, take your time, think, and check, taking independent advice, whether personal or professional.”