9:00pm Thursday 18th April 2013
By Bruce Unwin
BURGLARS targeted the home of a recently-bereaved widower twice within a few days, a court heard.
The house, in Wheatley Hill, east Durham, was owned by the 74-year-old resident of 40 years, who was staying with other family members following his wife’s death.
Durham Crown Court was told he made daily checks on the semi-detached property, on the Johnson Estate, and noticed it appeared to have been entered twice in mid-September last year, but it was initially unclear if anything was taken.
Ian West, prosecuting, said it emerged sentimental family jewellery, previously worn by the householder’s late wife, was missing.
Attempts were made to sell it at two Peterlee pawnbrokers’ shops, one successfully, the following day.
The house owner discovered the loss on his visit on September 22, while jump leads and a socket set were also missing.
Mr West said a neighbour reported suspicious activity at the house, at 3.45am the following day.
When police arrived the intruders were “lugging” a safe from the house to a car.
Four people fled, but one, Gavin Edward Armstrong, was detained.
Police went to his flat, in Hale Rise, Peterlee, where his girlfriend at the time, Gemma West, and co-accused, Shaun Anthony Morton, were arrested.
The burglary victim’s wallet, the stolen socket set and wrench, were all recovered from the flat.
All three refused to answer police questions, but 34-year-old Armstrong admitted burglary at the plea hearing in late November.
Morton and West, both 27, made admissions on the day their case was listed for trial earlier this year.
West, now of South Street, Sherburn Village, near Durham, admitted one burglary and Morton, of Robson Avenue, Peterlee, pleaded guilty to two break-ins at the property.
Ron Mitchell, for Morton, said he was, “driven by his heroin addiction”, but is now responding well to a methadone reduction programme.
Bill Davison, for Armstrong, said he provided the vehicle to remove the safe, adding that, “drugs were also an issue with him.”
Stephen Constantine, for West, said she had “no relevant convictions” and merely went along with Armstrong, her partner at the time.
Jailing Morton for three years and four months, and Armstrong for two years, Recorder Ben Nolan said it appeared they deliberately targeted the house knowing it was not being lived in at the time.
West was given a 21-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
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