‘Heartless’ burglar stole charity collection set up by grieving mum

Jan Klein, owner of Jan's Place in Washington, where thieves have broken in using a spade and stolen charity cash.
Jan Klein, owner of Jan's Place in Washington, where thieves have broken in using a spade and stolen charity cash.
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A “HEARTLESS” burglar has been jailed after stealing a charity collection bottle from a takeaway which was set up after the owner lost her five-year-old granddaughter to cancer.

Dominic Valente, 35, broke into Jan Klein’s takeaway in Washington and took a collection bottle containing around £700 from the counter.

I open up at 5.30am every morning and I find myself looking over my shoulder.

She set up her business, Jan’s Place, in October 2013 and placed a spirit bottle on the counter for customers to make donations to a children’s cancer charity.

On the bottle was a picture of her late granddaughter Zara Fort, who died following an 18-month battle with brain and spine cancer, and Jan hoped to raise enough money to send sick children on holiday to Haggerston Castle in Northumberland.

Valente broke in and stole the charity bottle overnight between January 20 and January 21 last year.

Newcastle Crown Court heard how he was a customer and was fully aware of the collection bottle which contained two visible £50 notes.

Stewart Graham, prosecuting, said: “The total loss estimated was £700 in relation to the cash stolen from the charity bottle and £200 damage to the premises. It contained £50 notes which were quite distinctive.

“He was found in possession of the £50 notes upon arrest.

“This was clearly marked as a charity bottle. We say it must have been the case to break in to target the charity item.”

Jan, 55, broke down in tears as she read her witness impact statement to the court.

She said: “Since starting my new business in October 2013 I have not considered my safety or risk to my premises.

“However, three to four months later I was burgled. The item stolen and the damage has resulted in me being nervous and afraid.

“I open up at 5.30am every morning and I find myself looking over my shoulder. I have had CCTV cameras fitted as a deterrent to anyone else thinking of doing anything like this.

“My partner meets me at 5.30 every morning to open my shop.

“A large spirit bottle of money for a children care charity was stolen from the counter.

“In March 2013 my granddaughter died after an 18-month bottle with cancer. The bottle was in Zara’s name to privide a holiday to Haggerston Castle for the children.”

When Jan was unable to finish reading her statement, Judge Robin Mairs read the remainder of the statement on her behalf, adding: “I find it hard to see that another human being could be as heartless.”

Mr Graham told the court how Valente was in breach of a suspended sentence for a previous burglary in September 2013 when he targeted Jan’s business. Valente, of Hazel Road, Blaydon, pleaded guilty to burglary, possession of cannabis and breaching a suspended sentence on the day of his trial.

Nick Lane, defending, said: “He would like to apologise to her publicly for the obvious upset he has caused to her.”

Judge Mairs jailed Valente for three years, telling him: “You were a customer there so you knew fine well there was a charity name on the bottle with a picture of her granddaughter who passed away from cancer in 2013 and the money was being raised by community for other children.

“This was a burglary that was specifically targeted and planned to steal that money. These types of burglary don’t just steal money or good they steal peoples peace of mind as well.

“She has had the distress added to the grief of loss by stealing the charity money.”

Afterwards, Jan said: “I am really happy that he has been jailed for three years.

“He is someone who has stooped to the lowest of the low. I wouldn’t steal from anyone, never mind a dead little girl.

“I had been raising the money for around six months and I haven’t got any of it back. Now I don’t keep any money in the shop.

“I still have the charity but I ask people to donate to a Barclay’s Bank account. Zara would have been seven-years-old now. I am not going to let this stop me from raising money for cancer.”