Jewellery thieves targetted widower’s safe

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TWO men who targeted the home of an elderly widower have been jailed for a total of more than five years.

A woman accomplice, who helped them steal jewellery and a safe from the property, was given a suspended sentence.

Durham Crown Court heard the 74-year-old East Durham man moved out of his marital home of 40 years after the death of his wife.

“He moved in with family, but kept the house on,” said prosecutor Ian West.

“His routine was to visit the house each day.

“The burglars gained entry the first time by forcing a kitchen window.

“The gentleman knew someone had been in, but could not say if anything had been taken.

“For a variety of reasons, he decided not to tell the police or his family.”

The court heard Gavin Armstrong, Shaun Morton and Gemma West returned 10 days later.

During their second visit the property was ransacked, and jewellery taken.

“Two attempts were made to pawn the jewellery at shops in Peterlee,” added Mr West. “The second one was successful.

“While most of the items were recovered, the elderly gentleman said he found it very distressing that his wife’s jewellery had been stolen.

“He said looking at the things was one of the main ways of reminding himself of the happy times they shared together.”

The court heard the three burglars were caught by police as they tried to move a small safe from the house into their car.

“It was in a wheelie bin on the garden path,” said Mr West.

“They didn’t know it, but the safe had been emptied as a precaution.

“The car they had waiting to take the safe away was registered to West.

“Other property from the house was found at the home West shared in Peterlee at the time with Armstrong.”

Armstrong, 28, of Hale Rise, Morton, 27, of Robson Avenue, both Peterlee, and West, 27, now of South Street, Sherburn Village, all admitted burglary in September, last year.

Lawyers for the three said each was sorry and had pleaded guilty.

West has only one previous conviction and no longer associates with Armstrong, the court heard.

Recorder Ben Nolan jailed Morton for three years and three months, Armstrong for two years, and West for 21 months, suspended for two years.

He told them said: “You went to this house as a group on more than one occasion, at night, and took items of great sentimental value to their owner.

“No doubt you hoped the safe contained things of monetary value.

“This was a planned offence and one that caused great distress to the victim.”