AN apprentice caretaker at a sheltered housing complex was branded mean and despicable after he repeatedly let himself into a pensioner's flat and stole her money.

Philip Findlay used a master key to get access to the 93-year-old's home in Aspen Gardens, Stockton, last December, Teesside Crown Court was told yesterday.

The elderly victim had thought she realised things were going missing from her purse, but started to question her own sanity, prosecutor Sue Jacobs told the court.

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It was not until police fitted a motion-sensing camera to the two-bed flat that 23-year-old Findlay was singled out as a suspect, and his manager identified him.

Findlay, of Penny Lane, Stockton, admitted theft at an earlier hearing, and was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with supervision.

The judge, Recorder Toby Hedworth, QC, also ordered him to carry out a dozen one-hour sessions at an attendance centre and observe a 12-week night-time curfew.

He told Findlay, who has since lost his job; "All right-minded people might regard these offences as quite despicable . . . she was an extremely vulnerable victim."

Robin Turton, mitigating, said; "This is a young man who recognises what he has done is wrong and accepts that he deserves to be punished for what he has done.

"He is genuinely remorseful about what took place . . . he struggles to explain why he did it . . . that is perhaps because of the embarrassment and the shame."