Dead dad's ashes and OBE certificate stolen as part of £170,000 haul after high-value house raids across Sunderland and South Tyneside

A dad's ashes were part of a £170,000 haul stolen during a series of high value house raids across Sunderland and South Tyneside  last summer.

By Karon Kelly
Friday, 10 May, 2019, 17:00

The ashes, which were in an urn, were taken from a house that was burgled and ransacked and left the deceased man's daughter, who had cherished them after his death, completely"devastated".

Newcastle Crown Court heard the house, where £15,000 of property was taken, along with the urn, was just one that was targeted during a spate of professional break-ins and thefts.

Steven Crombie

At one property, where a doctor and his family lived, a five-figure sum in cash was stolen along with designer accessories and a £22,000 Range Rover.

Property taken from other homes included an OBE certificate, war documents and irreplaceable jewellery belonging to victims' late relatives.

The court heard a black Range Rover was stolen from an address in Cleadon, in March last year along with £36,000 cash, quantities of jewellery and various bank cards.

The vehicle was later found to have been used by Steven Crombie and his associates to commit a number of other crimes, with the offenders using a number of stolen registration plates to avoid detection.

PC Graeme Rockett with some of the stolen items seized

Crombie went on to burgle several more homes in May and June 2018, stealing hundreds of valuable and sentimental items including ornamental swords, a Paul Reed Smith guitar and a Queen’s OBE award which was given to the victim’s grandfather 65 years ago.

A decorative urn containing the ashes of another victim’s deceased father was also stolen from a property in Houghton, which remains outstanding.

But when Crombie cut himself as he smashed his way into an address in Woodstone Village, County Durham, on May 9 last year, he inadvertently left blood at the scene that later came back as a forensic match.

On June 11, just three days after another burglary in Whitburn, Crombie was seen entering a pawnbroker in Newcastle with girlfriend Robinson. The pair were found to be in possession of some of the stolen jewellery, which they sold for £738.50.

A decorative urn containing the ashes of another victims deceased father which was stolen from a house in Houghton remains outstanding

Judge Edward Bindloss has now jailed Crombie and another man who admitted being involved in a burglary conspiracy and one woman who handled the stolen proceeds.

Crombie, 41, of Hampstead Road, Sunderland, admitted conspiracy to burgle, burglary, (in relation to five house raids) and theft and has been jailed for seven years and two months.

Brandon Meah, 20, of Rutland Street, Sunderland, admitted conspiracy to burgle, in relation to three house raids, and has been jailed for three years and seven months.

Crombie's then girlfriend Cheryl Robinson, 41, of Otley Avenue Middelsbrough, who lived with him in his "Aladdin's cave" of stolen property during the conspiracy, helped sell on some of the stolen jewellery and even organised a storage unit for it, admitted handling stolen goods.

Brandon Meah

She has been jailed for 22 months.

Meah's girlfriend Laura Churchill, 20, of Rutland Street, Sunderland, admitted assisting and offender by hiring a van to transport some of the stolen belongings.

She was sentenced to 11 months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with 150 hours unpaid work.

Crombie's brother-in-law Keith Patterson, 49, of Yewtree Avenue, Sunderland, admitted looking after some stolen cash for a few days and pleaded guilty to acquiring criminal property.

He was sentenced to 11 months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with 100 hours unpaid work.

Judge Bindloss said the late dad's ashes that were taken from the daughter are "gone forever".

The stolen Range Rover

The judge added: "Many of the victims feel a sense of violation, concern and worry.

"There was loss of valuable items, there was inconvenience both to business and family life.

"There was a feeling from some of being unsafe in their own home.

"One spoke of the dread of going home.

"A common feature is previous, sentimental and irreplaceable family items and gifts were gone and there was significant emotional harm at the loss."

The court heard some of the stolen property was returned to the owners but many are still deprived of their precious property, that can never be replaced.

Prosecutor Richard Holland said as well as expensive property, highly sentimental possessions were taken during the raids.

Mr Holland told the court: "There were a spate of house burglaries and car thefts in the late Spring and summer last year in Sunderland.

"Most involved high value property or high value motor vehicles and personal number plates.

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"The Crown say they were targeted and professional in nature."

Mr Holland told the court the ashes were taken during an early evening break-in that left the couple who lived their "sick to the pit of the stomach".

The victim said her father, who she was very close to, had died three years before and the ashes gave her comfort after his passing.

She said in a statement: "My father's ashes were given to me, which was a huge comfort and helped with my grieving.

"When my father's ashes were stolen it stopped my grieving process.

"I cannot put into words how devastated I feel.

"I feel the loss of my father again."

The victim said her mother had passed away more recently and added: "I would have liked to have put both of them together."

The court heard victims were left feeling "sick", "angry", "violated" and "empty" after their homes were entered and ransacked.

Mr Holland said the doctor's family were left living in fear after their home was targeted.

The doctor said in a statement: "This has left my family and I feeling unsafe in our home.

"My wife was hysterical when she found our house in this mess."

The court heard Crombie left a cigarette end at the scene of a theft from a car, was caught on CCTV with a visible tattoo during one break in, left his blood at another and even used his own phone and name to call a taxi to get away from one crime scene.

He had a plastic money bag, containing stolen jewellery, hidden between his buttocks when he was arrested.

His barrister Richard Herrmann told the court: "The offences are characterised by incompetence and ineptitude rather than professionalism and sophistication."

Mr Herrmann said Crombie, who was first convicted of burglary when he was just 13, has expressed "regret, apology and remorse" and now realises it is time to turn his life around.

Andrew Walker, defending, Meah, said the then teenager's involvement in the break-ins was restricted to just three days.

Mr Walker said Meah had work as a fast-food manager, has a child to support and has never been to prison before.

Victoria Lamballe, defending Robinson, said the former bank worker started her relationship with Crombie in 2017 and was living with him during the offences last year.

Miss Lamballe added: "He accepted she was living in what was an Aladdin's cave.

She was aware much of the property taken to Mr Crombie's house was stolen. It was not her venture."

Alec Burns, defending Churchlill, said the mum has never been in trouble before and her involvement was limited and naive.

Stephen Hammil, defending Patterson, said the care worker was not involved in the wider conspiracy and has shown remorse for his limited role.

After the case, PC Graeme Rockett, of Northumbria Police, said: "Steven Crombie has been prolific in his offending and has caused misery to a huge number of residents across Sunderland and South Tyneside.

"He has shown a total disregard to the law and his victims through his selfish actions, and stole a huge amount of property which was of significant sentimental value to the victims.

"Burglary is an incredibly emotive crime and this was a large-scale burglary conspiracy estimated to be worth up to £170,000.

"Thousands of valuable items were stolen from homes and vehicles across the region, and while officers have managed to recover many of those goods, some sentimental items – including a distinctive urn containing the ashes of the victim’s father - remain outstanding.

"I hope today’s sentences send out a clear message that, as a Force, we are committed to tackling burglary and car crime and we will use every resource at our disposal to ensure prolific offenders are convicted and brought to justice for their crimes.

"I would like to thank all of the victims who helped us bring these criminals before the courts, as well as the team of detectives who worked tirelessly on this 12-month investigation."

Cheryl Robinson
A Queens OBE award that was given to the victims grandfather 65 years ago has been safely returned by police
Laura Churchill
Keith Patterson