TWO callous criminals who preyed on old people were jailed for a total of 12 years at Winchester Crown Court this week.

Robert and Michael O'Donaghue from Foxhayes Road in Whitley, Reading, were charged with conspiracy to burgle.

Michael (25) admitted a conspiracy covering eight offences in Hampshire, Camberley, Berkshire and Oxford for which he was jailed for five years. This was increased to seven after he admitted two counts of wounding with intent, one of assault and one of possessing an offensive weapon - all relating to a violent incident in Reading.

Robert was jailed for three-and-a half years for a case in Oxford where the pair robbed an 81-year-old of her £400 Christmas money. He received an extra 18 months for a Reading burglary.

Michael admitted visiting the home of a couple in their 80s in the High Street, Hartley Wintney, where he told them he was a council worker looking at car parks. They became suspicious when he began to talk about their jewellery and he left empty-handed.

The same day he went to the home of an 86-year-old woman in Sullivan Road, Camberley, and knocked on her door, asking her to turn her water off. Again, she became suspicious and he left empty-handed.

Thames Valley and Hampshire police joined forces to arrest and prosecute the pair.

Det-Sgt Dave Powell of Hampshire said afterwards: "Distraction burglary is a callous offence. To trick your way into the homes of frail, elderly and often confused people to steal what little cash they may have means you are the lowest of the low.

"We hope the substantial sentences will serve as a warning to those considering preying on the vulnerable."