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Cousins who carried out spate of care home burglaries 'targeted elderly and vulnerable people'

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Belfast Crown Court

Belfast Crown Court

PA Archive/PA Images

Belfast Crown Court

Two cousins who carried out a spate of burglaries at residential homes over a one-week period were spared jail on Tuesday.

On all eight occasions, Ladislav Lakatos (19) and Zakelina Sarkozlova (24) left empty-handed after being challenged by staff.

The pair, both with an address at Princes Crescent in Newtownabbey, appeared at Belfast Crown Court, where they were each handed an 18-month sentence which was suspended for two years.

Judge Stephen Fowler QC told the pair, who are originally from Slovakia, that the elderly and vulnerable residents who lived in the premises they targeted should be entitled to privacy and security.

Noting that nothing was taken during the six burglaries and two attempted burglaries due to the fortitude of the staff who confronted the intruders, Judge Fowler said the pair displayed "persistence" and "even had the audacity to target the same care home twice."

Lakatos and Sarkozlova targeted seven care homes in Belfast and Co Antrim between April 28 to May 4, 2018.

On April 28, a member of staff at the El Shammah residential home in Lisburn saw the pair standing in a busy corridor. When questioned, Lakatos said he was looking for his grandmother.

When the staff member turned her attention to a resident, Lakatos and Sarkozlova walked away. When challenged by a second member of staff, they became evasive, were told to leave and the incident was reported to police.

The second incident occurred two days later at the Palmerstone Care Home in Belfast. At around noon, they entered the premises via a security door and into a secure foyer area.

Staff asked if they could help, Lakatos began pulling on the door, said he was there to visit his grandmother and repeatedly asked to be allowed in. When refused further entry, they left.

Two incidents occurred in Carrickfergus on May 1, the first of which took place at Carrick Manor Nursing Home. The pair were seen by a care assistant carrying rucksacks and opening and closing residents doors.

The bedrooms were empty, and when challenged Lakatos claimed he was there to visit his great-grandmother. He became agitated when asked her surname and asked to be let out.

A short time later, a care assistant at Joymount Residential Home confronted the cousins on the top floor of the premises. After being questioned by a second staff member, they were escorted from the care home.

The following day the pair targeted three care homes in Ballymena. At 1pm, they entered Pinewood Care Home by walking behind a visitor who had been buzzed in. They were stopped and when confronted by staff, they left.

Half an hour later, a staff member at Deerfin Fold was sitting in the car park when she saw Lakatos make several unsuccessful attempts to open the fire door.

A resident then let the pair in the main reception, staff were alerted and Lakatos and Sarkozlova were confronted in an upstairs corridor. Lakatos said he was looking for his grandmother, that he was in the wrong floor, and they left.

At 2pm, the pair were challenged by staff in the corridor of Glenravel Fold, who became suspicious of their presence and escorted them from the premises.

The final incident occurred again at El Shammah in Lisburn on May 4. They were recognised in a corridor by a member of staff involved in the previous incident, and when challenged and told that the police had been alerted, they fled via a fire exit.

Staff gave chase but lost them, but police were able to link the pair to a Volkswagen Golf via CCTV. The car was traced to an address in Newtownabbey and the pair were arrested on May 9.

During their interview, both claimed they had been present at the care homes as they were seeking work.

Judge Fowler said the cousins had criminal records and had not re-offended since their arrests two years ago.

The Judge said Lakatos came to Northern Ireland in 2016 looking for a job, and was a young man in poor mental and physical health. He accepted that Lakatos had displayed "a high level of regret and shame for his actions" and has engaged well with agencies whilst on bail.

Turning to Sarkozlova, he said the mother-of-one has also expressed "remorse and regret" for her involvement, and is a carer for her ill mother.

During sentencing, Judge Fowler said the targeting of old or vulnerable people was a serious offence, and that Lakatos and Sarkozlova "chose to go to such locations because the elderly residents, in their view, would be easy to steal from."

The Judge also said: "There was nothing actually taken from any of the nursing homes, very much as a result of the quick-thinking and observations by the staff in those care homes."

Judge Fowler handed the pair a 18-month sentence and said that after careful consideration, he was suspending the sentence. He then warned Lakatos and Sarkozlova that if they re-offended within the next two years, they faced jail.

Belfast Telegraph