Trio to be sentenced next month over break-ins at unoccupied Wheatley Hill home

AN unoccupied, but still furnished house, was targeted by burglars at least twice over the space of a few days.

Among items taken from the property on the Johnson Estate, in Wheatley Hill, east Durham, was a safe and jewellery of a sentimental value, in September last year.

Durham Crown Court heard that although the householder had gone to stay with other relatives, following the death of his wife, he still kept many possessions at what had been his home for 40 years, including several items of her jewellery.

Following suspicious activity at the house, observed by a neighbour, one man was arrested by police, following a chase, in the early hours of Sunday, September 23 last year.

A second man successfully made his getaway from the scene, but, as a further result of information received, from a taxi driver, police subsequently went to an address in nearby Peterlee, where a young couple were arrested.

All three, 34-year-old Gavin Armstrong, plus Shaun Anthony Morton and Gemma West, both 27, were charged with burglary.

Armstrong, of no fixed abode, the man arrested near the scene, admitted the charge, but Morton and West pleaded not guilty at a previous hearing.

They were bailed to return for trial at the court today (Wednesday February 27), but on their appearance, Ron Mitchell, representing Morton, asked if the charge could be put to them again.

Both admitted burglary, taking a safe, a wallet and its contents, plus other items, on September 23.

Morton, also admitted a further break-in at the same address, taking items of jewellery, on a date prior to September 23.

Mr Mitchell told the court: “Mr Morton has a large number of offences on his record, including various non-dwelling burglaries, as well as being a three-strikes burglar.

“He is also subject of a suspended sentence imposed by magistrates for a further non-dwelling burglary.

“He accepts a custodial sentence is inevitable.”

But both Mr Mitchell, for Morton, and Stephen Constantine, for West, asked for preparation of probation reports prior to sentence.

Judge Christopher Prince agreed and adjourned sentence on Morton and West, until March 22, when Armstrong will also learn his fate.

Morton, of Hale Rise, Peterlee, was remanded in custody, but West was bailed to an address in Milton Grove, Shotton Colliery.

Judge Prince also asked for an up-dated impact statement from the affected householder to be prepared for the sentencing hearing.

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