Belfast Telegraph

Family’s fury as thief allowed back to OAP housing

By Dave Whelan

A man who stole hundreds of pounds from vulnerable pensioners at an east Belfast sheltered housing centre was back living there just hours after being convicted.

Noel Johnston (66) was operating as an ‘active tenant’ for the Oaklee Holmes Group at the Belle Bashford Court residence on the Woodstock Road when he was arrested for three separate burglary charges relating to dates in July this year.

Despite being given a four-month prison sentence, which was suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay £200 compensation after pleading guilty on September 4, Johnston was able to return to centre that night — and continues to live there.

The thefts only came to light after the family of a 92-year-old resident installed hidden cameras amid growing concerns that money was disappearing.

Marlene Barr told the Community Telegraph that her mother-in-law Elsie Barr had been living in the residence for 17 years and had put a lot of trust in the man before he “bled her dry”.

“There used to be a 24-hour security service operating around the building but because of cutbacks they’ve had to trim down the service and rely more on what they call an active tenant,” she said.

“He would have been very well known to all the residents and acted as a bit of a handyman as well as an emergency contact and he would have been able to move freely in and out of many of their doors and even had access codes.”

Marlene said that they dismissed early complaints from the pensioner that her money was missing, assuming she had misplaced it or given it to charity. 

“It started getting serious when we realised she was getting her pension on a Thursday and having to ring and ask for money on a Saturday. It caused her to have to take money from her credit union, her savings and even her burial funds.

“We installed the cameras in June and presented the evidence to the police but God knows how long it has been going on for and how many other people were targeted — we just can’t believe he is back,” she added.

Oaklee Homes Group refused to comment on the individual tenant’s particular circumstances, saying that it would be a breach of confidentiality.

It added: “Oaklee Homes Group, like all other registered housing associations in Northern Ireland, must follow a prescribed legal process when we require someone to leave one of our properties. This process involves the serving of a notice to quit, followed a month later by a request to the Court Service for a court date to hear the case.”

It is understood Oaklee has since served an eviction notice to Mr Johnston, but residents believe he has no intention of leaving in the required period.

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