A man given casual work assisting a gardener committed a sneak-in burglary at the home of an elderly woman on his first day in the job, a court heard.

While working in the garden outside the home of an 80-year-old woman, in Stanley, Lee Dawes made the excuse of needing to go into the property to use the toilet, shortly after the householder had gone out, on the afternoon of September 29.

Durham Crown Court was told Dawes was found in the living room and made the excuse of wanting to, “sort out the wi-fi”.

When the elderly householder returned she was unaware of what had happened but the following day she was unable to find her phone or £450 in cash that she had withdrawn from the bank the previous day.

The Northern Echo: Lee Dawes, jailed for two years for 'sneak in' burglary at 80-year-old woman's home

Martin Towers, prosecuting, said she went to her bank and was made aware of an assortment of attempts to use her bank details online in the early hours of that morning.

It emerged it began with a successful £100 transaction but following attempts to use the card for a further £5,709 of services and purchases were all blocked.

The man in charge of the gardening work was contacted and he gave police the details of the casual worker who was with him that day, Dawes.

He told police he had been approached by Dawes in a pub the previous evening asking for casual work and had agreed for him to join him on September 29.

Mr Towers said when police went to the defendant’s address they found he was in possession of the elderly woman’s phone and a set of keys fitting her door locks, which by then had been changed.

Dawes made no comment when interviewed by police, but appearing before magistrates, last month, the 25-year-old defendant, of Mitchell Street, South Moor, Stanley, admitted charges of burglary of the house and fraud, relating to the attempts to use the victim’s bank card.

He has since remained on remand in custody at Durham Prison awaiting sentence.

In an impact statement read to the hearing, the court heard the offence has had a significant effect on the victim, who has lost a lot of her previous independent spirit in the wake of the crimes.

She was said to feel like, “a shell of her former self”, and is undergoing counselling.

Chris Morrison, representing the defendant, said he could not have been said to have targeted the victim as he had not procured the work at that property.

“It was committed very much in a ‘sneak way’ and the fact the victim’s keys and phone were still at his address days later reflects a level of naivety, lacking any form of criminal sophistication.

“Regarding the keys, there was no suggestion he made any further attempts to go to that address.”

Mr Morrison said prior to the offence the defendant was being “picked on and threatened” by a man in the locality of where he was living, and all the proceeds of the offence were handed over, “to that bully”.

As a result, on his release from prison, the defendant intends to leave the Stanley area and return to his parents’ address in the Kenton district of Newcastle, added Mr Morrison.

Despite Mr Morrison’s assertions, Judge Jo Kidd said she believed the person who was going to benefit from the crime was the defendant, himself, “rather than an unnamed individual who used you for the commission of this offence”.

Judge Kidd said the question remains over what the defendant’s intention was, having retained the keys to the victim’s home.

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“The fact remains what you had done on September 29 was to take advantage of a kind offer of work by going into that old lady’s house and searching it, taking the money, her phone, her keys and her credit card.

“You are said to be a man of no previous convictions who is genuinely remorseful, but the impact on the victim has been enormous, causing her substantial psychological harm.”

Passing a two-year prison sentence on Dawes, the judge said she hopes the imposition of a five-year restraining order on the defendant, prohibiting him from going to that address or contacting the victim, would give her, “a degree of comfort”.