EVERY decent person will be appalled and angered at the anguish pensioner Albert Woodhouse has suffered at the hands of a heartless and brazen confidence trickster.

For the 81-year-old has been left penniless after a scum criminal posing as a council officer advising, of all things, on better home security, entered his Accrington house and stole his life savings of £600.

It is the second time in six months that Albert has been robbed by bogus officials. Now, the twice-widowed pensioner, who has never done anything in his life to hurt anyone, is so wretched that he is begging thieves to leave him alone.

But sickening as it is that a harmless old person is made to suffer so, what is also truly appalling is the sheer frequency of crimes like this.

For Albert is the latest victim in a long line of similar incidents in East Lancashire -- ones which police now describe as a major problem. Conmen and women posing as electricity and gas employees, council workers and even social service staff have targeted and stolen thousands of pounds from the elderly in at least 15 cases in the Blackburn and Hyndburn area since Christmas.

Their extent is dreadful and demands more protection for old folk -- not just of the sort launched by Neighbourhood Watch in Blackburn to provide pensioners with an automatic 'voice' reminding them to check the identity of callers when they answer the door, but also for the community to make real efforts to safeguard elderly by keeping a constant eye on them.

But it is the utter vileness of these crimes -- the fact that, like jackals, their perpetrators deliberately prey on the weak and vulnerable -- that calls for the firmest response from the law.

Such merciless, calculating cunning and cowardice cries out in turn for no mercy to be given to the guilty by the courts. Jail -- and for a long time -- is what each deserves and must get.