A 'callous and cowardly' couple who befriended elderly victims before conning them out of their wealth have been jailed for a total of almost ten years.
Christopher Barnes, 42, and his partner Lucy Palmer, 35, targeted five pensioners between October 2014 and September 2017 to fund their own 'lavish lifestyles'.
The pair manipulated their victims by forging friendships and often 'grossly overcharging' them for unnecessary building and gardening work.
The now-separated couple even recruited their children to act as a surrogate family for their victims - two of whom have since died.
Christopher Barnes, 42, and his partner Lucy Palmer, 35, targeted five pensioners between October 2014 and September 2017
Palmer and Barnes conned a total of £635,000 out of their victims over two years, the Daily Express reported.
Barnes presented himself as a 'substantial and respectable' gardener and builder, Chelmsford Crown Court heard.
He would often tell the elderly people he had befriended they needed urgent structural work done to their homes before 'grossly overcharging' them.
Prosecutor Anwar Nashashibi said: 'Mr Barnes played the leading role in this conspiracy. He devised the strategies that were used on each victim.
'Mr Barnes is a man who is capable of being very charming and convincing.'
Mr Nashashibi told the court how Barnes targeted lonely people who were anxious for attention before exploiting this emotional vulnerability.
One victim, Veronica Mills, 79, was befriended by Barnes who then brought Palmer into the scam.
Palmer would take Mrs Mills out for lunch, calling her Nan, and even bought her gifts, the court heard.
Damien Salter (left) and Paul Masters (right) were also sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court
Barnes then persuaded Mrs Mills to transfer her £185,000 home in Clacton, Essex to him and cut her son out of her will. The pair then moved into her bungalow.
A second victim, Victor Borley, agreed to apply for his pension to be converted into a £117,000 lump sum to hand to Barnes. He had been ill when he met the couple and has since died.
Another man, also from Clacton, paid Barnes £106,000 for work later valued at just £30,000.
An elderly woman, 79, paid Barnes £28,000 for block paving at her home and almost sold her home to him for £27,000 - well below the true market value.
Granddaughter of victim says scam is 'an absolute disgrace'
The granddaughter of one of the pair's victims has deemed the scam 'an absolute disgrace.'
Leah Clark's grandfather William was scammed out of £38,000 after being approached by the couple.
Mr Clark, 85, passed away from cancer later - and Ms Clark blames this on Christopher Barnes.
She said he lost the will to live after being approached by the fraudster not long after the conman's release from prison in 2014.
Barnes had previously been convicted of scamming two pensioners out of £150,000.
Ms Clark said: 'It is an absolute disgrace what these people have done to their victims.
'They showed no care, no compassion and gave no thought or consideration to the impact that their cruel and heartless actions had on their victims.
'Today brought closure with the judge and jury putting four of them behind bars.'
She now hopes to raise awareness about this form of crime to prevent it happening to others.
Barnes also cold called an 83-year-old woman in Leigh-on-Sea and offered to clear some weeds.
He then conned her into having work done to her drains and patio that was not needed. The victim paid him a total of £33,000.
The couple also targeted William Clark, but they suddenly vanished after charging him £105,000 for 'upgrades' to his home.
This scam was continued by another pair, Damien Salter, 29, and Samantha Rogers who went on to fleece him of another £38,000.
Judge Jonathan Seely deemed Barnes a 'disgraceful amoral fraudster' when he was jailed for six years and seven months for conspiracy to defraud at Chelmsford Crown Court.
He said: 'You caused untold misery to decent, trusting people who had led blameless lives and who must have had their beliefs in human behaviour and decency shattered in the later stages of their lives to serve your grubby and selfish greed.'
Palmer was jailed for three years for conspiracy to defraud.
Barnes and Palmer were part of a 'sophisticated operation' which included Salter, Rogers and a third man Paul Masters, 60.
The gang were found guilty in August following a nine-week trial.
Salter was jailed for four years for fraud by false representation. Samantha Rogers, 38, was given an 18-month suspended sentence for the same charge.
Rogers is also subject to a six-month curfew between 7pm and 6am.
Masters was sentenced to three years for money laundering. He and Barnes have also both been made subject to serious crime prevention orders.
Investigating officer Detective Constable Lee Winfield said: 'Every person sentenced today played a key role in this sophisticated operation, which involved brainwashing victims into believing they were not victims of crime.
'The money illegally obtained from the victims by manipulation and deception helped fund lavish lifestyles.
'The victims were identified by these cowardly and callous crooks due their age, vulnerability and in some cases, poor health.
'Their attempts to dupe a jury were in vain and today four of them have been locked in prison.'