West Yorkshire Police 999 call handlers in plot to burgle home of elderly couple who were blackmailed in family row over inheritance

Two police call handlers plotted to burgle the home of an elderly couple who were then blackmailed in an attempt to extort money from them.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 4:41 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 5:01 pm

Freya Atkinson and Michael Young hatched the plan to carry out the burglary while working for West Yorkshire Police.

A court heard the victims were elderly relatives of Atkinson who held a grudge against them after a row over inheritance money.

After a failed attempt to break into the couple's home, Young made a phone call threatening to harm their disabled son unless they handed over £3,000.

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Freya Atkinson and Michael Young were both jailed for 30 months over a burglary conspiracy.

Atkinson also carried out an arson attack at the couple's home in Castleford.

Atkinson and Young were both jailed for 30 months at Leeds Crown Court today (September 15).

Judge Rodney Jameson QC told Atkinson: "This was a revenge attack. It was you getting your own back for a perceived slight or injustice over family finances.

"In other words, you wanted to get money because you felt hard done by.

Freya Atkinson

"This was part of a campaign to persecute an elderly couple."

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Samuel Ponniah, prosecuting, said both defendants were civilian employees at West Yorkshire Police when the offending took place between February and April last year.

The victims were Atkinson's great uncle and his wife.

Michael Young

The couple went on holiday in January last year and left their home locked and secure.

While on holiday they received a phone call from family members saying that someone had tried to break into the house.

They returned to the property on February 9 to find a window had been boarded up and marks on the door handle.

They checked CCTV footage and saw Atkinson going into the garden.

Nothing was stolen from the property but it cost £5,000 to repair the damage.

Two months later, on April 8, the couple received a call to their landline phone.

The female victim answered and spoke to Young who asked questions about her son.

Young said that her son owed him £3,000 and "something would happen" to him if the money was not paid within 24 hours.

Young said to the woman he would "make him squirm like a little worm on the floor."

The defendant also made references to the previous attack on their home and the window being smashed.

The male victim then took hold of the phone and accused Young of being a coward.

Further calls were made to the phone which were not answered.

Young left a voice message saying: "Who's scared now, not answering your phone."

The following night the couple saw that their garden hedge was on fire.

CCTV footage showed Atkinson outside the property.

There were also burn marks to the gate.

Atkinson returned to the property the next day and set fire to a bush.

Her great uncle went outside and tried to restrain her.

The prosecutor said there was a strong smell of petrol.

Atkinson kicked out at her relative and bit him on the arm.

Atkinson was arrested and found with a bottle containing petrol.

Her mobile phone was examined and text conversions between her and Young were found.

There were references to one of them having debts of "a few grand."

There was also a discussion about an empty property "with stuff inside".

Mr Ponniah said the defendants made an agreement to break into the house and split the proceeds of anything over £2,000.

Atkinson, 22, of North Avenue, Castleford, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary, arson and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Young, 30, of Healdwood Road, Castleford, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and blackmail.

The court heard the victims had suffered serious psychological distress as a result of the offending.

Mr Ponniah read victim statements to the court on their behalf describing how they have turned the home into "fortress" by building a six-foot high fence around their property.

They are now too afraid to leave their home unattended and no longer take holidays.

Atkinson's great uncle said: "Freya was a sweet girl but on the night in question she was pure evil."

A probation service report stated that Atkinson had shown no remorse for the offending.

James Littlehales, mitigating for Atkinson, said she had lost her job as a police call handler.

He said his client had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of a particularly distressing call she had had to deal with in the course of her work.

Christopher Morton, for Young, said the defendant has a partner and children.

He said Young had been a soldier until being medically discharged from the army in 2017.

Mr Morton said Young had also been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of his experiences serving in Afghanistan.

Judge Jameson said the offending was too serious to impose anything other than immediate prison sentences.

He has managed to get a job as a car salesman after being sacked by West Yorkshire Police.

He said: "The idea to commit the burglary was Miss Atkinson's, but each of you were involved jointly thereafter in the plan being executed."

West Yorkshire Police said Atkinson and Young were immediately suspended from their roles and have since resigned from the Force.

After the case, Detective Superintendent Mark Long, of West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Directorate, said: “Atkinson and Young have been responsible for a sustained campaign against an older male victim who is known to them, designed to cause fear and ultimately obtain money from him.

“There are expected standards that all police employees are expected to comply with, whether on or off duty, and their actions fell well beneath these; and to be quite frank what would be expected of any right thinking member of the public.

“I hope the sentences handed down today show that we will, and do, take action against employees and former employees.

"The vast majority of our officers, staff and volunteers act with the highest integrity and are sadly let down by individuals such as Atkinson and Young.”