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Barrow blackmailer who demanded money in return for missing pets jailed

A blackmailer who falsely told distraught pet owners he had found their lost animals before demanding cash for their safe return has been jailed for 3 years 8 months.

Brandon Woolveridge, 24, previously of Melbourne Street, Barrow In Furness, Cumbria preyed on distressed people who had posted social media appeals after their dogs or cats went missing.

He lied and told them he had their animals.

He then demanded money be paid into various bank accounts in return for them getting the pets back, sometimes threatening he would kill the animals if he did not get what he wanted.

Some victims paid money, with Woolveridge even laughing at one pet owner after she had sent him £1,000, saying: “Now I can buy a new car.”

Officers launched Operation Façade after it became apparent that many reports across the country featured strong similarities – and appeared to be linked to Cumbria.

It led to the arrest of Woolveridge, who admitted nine counts of blackmail after facing the case put together by detectives and prosecutors.

He also asked for 73 other similar offences to be taken into consideration.

He was sentenced yesterday (October 26) at Preston Crown Court.

Examples of Woolveridge’s offences included:

Telling a victim that he had her lost dog and stating he would kill it if she did not pay £1,000.

Telling another owner he would use his female dog for breeding and he would never see his pet again.

Claiming to have one victim’s dog that had gone missing and threatening to shoot the pet if the owner put the phone down and did not pay £1,000.

Woolveridge was caught after analysis of phone evidence linked him to the cases.

Detective Inspector Amanda Sykes, of the force’s major incident team, spoke after the sentencing.

She said: “Woolveridge’s victims were already extremely distressed at the loss of their much loved pets, when he cruelly chose to prey on them.

“He then made this ordeal even more traumatic by firstly raising their hopes that their pet would be returned, then frightening them into believing he would harm their pets if he did not get money.

“They would then have their hopes dashed and their money taken when they realised this was all a lie.

“I would like to thank the victims of these dreadful crimes for coming forward and supporting this investigation. Although we know they will always suffer from the loss of their pets, we truly hope that seeing Woolveridge appear in court will offer some sense of justice.”

She added: “Operation Façade has been a very complex investigation, with over 200 victims to date identified from across the whole of the United Kingdom. The investigation is continuing, and we will pursue anyone who has been involved in these blackmail offences or handling the money taken from the victims.

“While we totally understand why people would offer money to get back a much-loved pet, we would like to take this opportunity to offer the following advice.

“We would urge people who have lost pets not to send reward money without doing extensive checks that the claim is legitimate – and the pet has been found by that person.

“Checks could involve conducting a video call with the person to see your pet with them – or asking for new photos of your pet; if you do this please check carefully to make sure any photo is genuine.

“If you have concerns that the person wo has contacted you may be acting fraudulently, then please do not give them any money or personal information and contact the police.”

Recorder Blakey, presiding, stated: “You preyed on the vulnerability of the owners of these animals. You didn’t care one jot about their feelings. You took advantage of their feelings and exacerbated their hurt. You knew they were easy targets and that they would pay you”.

Impact on the victims

The impact on the victims in this case was significant. The below extracts from statements taken directly from some of Woolveridge’s victims, demonstrate the lasting impact these crimes have had on those involved.

“This male made me feel physically sick, during the call I was shaking and shivering uncontrollably… The fact that he was mocking me made me feel completely humiliated - I don’t think I will ever forget the way he made me feel that day.”

“I would have done anything to get my dog back and I still would. Being scammed at that point in my life has made me really doubt myself. It has impacted on my confidence.”

“Ultimately, I feel violated by the people involved, I have not been able to live alone and have always had someone staying with me and feel as though this will be the same for the foreseeable future.”

“I have cried throughout giving this statement as the feelings are still raw. I am sure that this is exasperated because I still haven’t found her and have no idea what has happened to her.”

“The caller has caused me so much distress, anger, frustration and depression during this time. I couldn’t eat or sleep and would burst into tears just thinking about what was going on and not knowing where she was.”

Theft offence

Woolveridge was also sentenced yesterday for the theft of a wheelchair for separate incident which occurred in Barrow on 3 Feb 2023.

The court heard how Woolveridge stole a wheelchair, worth £2000, which belonged to a vulnerable young girl and damaged it so badly her family had to replace it.

The victim’s mother said this offence had been traumatising for her disabled daughter and meant her family could not go out until the wheelchair had been replaced.

Recorder Blakey described this as a “heartless offence.”

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