A “ruthless” courier fraud gang who stole more than £215,000 from vulnerable elderly people, including a World War Two veteran, have been jailed for more than 27 years.

Pretending to be an Inspector Hart from Scotland Yard's Fraud Squad, a bogus policeman told the victims their bank accounts had been raided by criminals.

The fraudster persuaded 34 people from High Wycombe and Beaconsfield in Bucks, Watford, Rickmansworth, Berkhamsted, Hemel Hempstead, Middlesex, Bedfordshire and Yorkshire to hand over thousands of pounds to couriers.

Prosecutor Charlene Sumnall told St Albans crown court the losses totalled £215,641.60. Alert bank staff and members of potential victims' families prevented a further £112,445 being taken. It amount to £328,086 between March 1, 2016 and November 29, 2016.

She said: "These defendants carried out a long-running carefully planned and utterly ruthless fraud."

An 88-year-old High Wycombe woman received a call from Sheikh Hussain, who pretended to be Inspector Hart. He told her there had been a fraud on her bank account. She was persuaded to empty her bank account.

Another 80-year-old Beaconsfield woman was called by a bogus PC Leonard who said he was a local officer. He told her to call Scotland Yard on 161 as she had been the victim of a fraud.

The prosecutor said: "She dialled the number but the defendants had left the line open and DI Hart spoke to her. He told her the area manager of her bank was being investigated." She was persuaded to withdraw £13,500 in Euros.

An 82-year-old woman from Berkshire, was also persuaded to withdraw money from Barclays in Gerrards Cross. She collected the cash and was told to wear rubber gloves while reading over serial numbers to the fraudsters. She was given a password to say to the courier when he arrived.

After 91-year-old WW2 veteran Cyril Banks was conned out of £9,000 by the gang in 2016 an online campaign raised £18,000. He donated the extra money to charities.

Jailing nine men on Friday, Judge Graham Allen said: "Each victim was elderly - some were in their 80s or 90s. They are of a generation who assist police without question.

"It was a particularly mean fraud that plays on the vulnerability of the victims. It humiliates them and must cause great distress."

An organiser and principal fraudster Sheikh Hussain, 24, of Great Russell Square, Camden, and Nahid Uddin, 24, of Charlton Street, Camden, were each jailed for four years after admitting conspiracy to commit fraud.

Masum Uddin, 23, of Orde Hall Street, Camden was jailed for seven years in his absence after being convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Mohammed Khaled, 24, of Portpool Lane, Bourne Estate, Camden, was jailed for four years and three months in his absence for conspiracy. Warrants have been issued for their arrest.

They had organised the conspiracy, contacted victims and controlled the couriers.

The couriers were Mohamad Abdullahi, 22, of Cumberland Market, Camden, who was jailed for a total of six and a half years. He was convicted of the Hertfordshire fraud and had carried out a second courier fraud in Lincolnshire while on bail, and Mushahid Miah, 24, of Ampthill Square, Camden, who has two previous convictions for courier fraud. He was jailed for two years for fraud.

The money launderers were Abdul Khan, 26, of Calverton Road, Luton, and Dedar Ali, 24, Cressfield Close, Camden, who were convicted of entering a money laundering operation.

They were sentenced to 6 months' jail suspended for 18 months.

They were joined by Abdalla Abdalla, 27, of Piper Close, Islington, who pleaded guilty to entering a money laundering operation by allowing £9,800 proceeds of the fraud to go through his bank.

He received 8 months suspended for 18 months with 120 hours' unpaid work. He must also attend a 30 day offending behaviour programme.

At the end of the case, the judge commended DC Julian Griffiths, from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Serious Fraud and Cyber Unit, for his investigation saying: "He did a lot of leg work. What he did led to a most satisfactory result for the public."

Celia Billep and her sister Penny Crimson said the fraud on their father William Crinson, 87, of Shepperton in Middlesex had a huge impact on his emotional health.

They said: "Before this incident, for a man in his 80s, my father was living a fairly full and active life. He was teaching a humanities class one day per week, he always had a painting on the go and he would travel into London to meet his family using public transport.

"He was at a vulnerable time in his life having lost his wife the previous year and finding himself for the first time living on his own as his step son had moved out the previous month. But he kept positive and threw himself into projects like creating an art studio in the spare bedroom.

"Our father had had a life fairly sheltered from crime and was a trusting man. This fraud case totally knocked the wind out of my father’s sails. The fraudsters played on his vulnerability. He was drawn into their deceit because of his trusting nature, his strong sense of citizenship and what he felt was his duty to help the police.

"After this crime he felt foolish. It leached his confidence and intellectual pride. It undermined his sense of self as he asked himself how he, a bright, well-read man with a critical mind could be fooled by these people? He was clearly embarrassed and avoided talking about it. “He clearly internalised this feeling and family and friends noticed a rapid decline in his mental health. His physical health also declined and he began to withdraw from the world. He stopped teaching, he avoided going out of the house and eventually he stopped painting.

"In May 2017 our father passed away. It’s hard not to link this crime with his rapid demise."

DC Griffiths said: "These men callously targeted elderly and vulnerable victims and defrauded them out of their lives savings.

"I am pleased that they are now behind bars and I hope it brings some comfort to the victims and their families who had been left devastated by the actions of these men."

He went on: "We have done a lot of work to raise awareness of these scams but we need people to continue spreading the word to friends, relatives and neighbours to help prevent get more people falling victim to them.

"Please remember that the police and banks would never ask for your PIN over the phone and would never ask you to withdraw cash and hand it to a courier.

"If you received a call you are suspicious of, please hang up and alert the police. Remember to wait at least five minutes or use a mobile phone to ensure you aren't reconnected to the offender."