PENSIONER Annick Vercaigne-Landsman has been left heartbroken after a burglar raided her house and stole treasured family heirlooms.
She was one of a number of victims of burglar Robert Giles, who stole from people’s homes while they were in.
A precious diamond necklace and earrings with a connection to the First World War were among the goods stolen from 74-year-old Annick’s Southsea home.
The jewellery was just a tiny portion of the haul amassed by Giles, who has been sentenced to six years behind bars at Portsmouth Crown Court.
Annick. pictured, said she was devastated when she realised the heirlooms, which had been valued at more than £5,000, had been taken.
She said: ‘It was just devastating.
‘It went straight to my heart and I realised then that the whole history of how they were acquired was lost.
‘How hard my dad had saved to buy them – it’s a bit of family history gone.’
A farmer from Belgium, Annick’s father Heron, who died in 2003, bought the jewels for his wife in 1932.
He had saved the money for them by digging up bombs and metal left over from the blood-stained battlefields of the Western Front and selling them on.
The family then settled in the Picardy region of France.
After growing up there, Annick moved to the Portsmouth area in her late teens and taught French before becoming a nurse.
Annick said she regularly returned to France to visit her family and her mother Maria gave her the jewellery a year before she died in 2009.
She said: ‘My parents were such hard workers and to think I lost so easily what they had worked so hard for.’
Annick’s house was just one of many targeted by Giles, 33, a prolific offender who was on probation when he launched his latest spree of overnight burglaries around Southsea.
In some cases, the victims were at home when the burglaries happened, with Giles creeping around the property unheard by the occupants.
He entered the homes he burgled by forcing doors or breaking windows and taking laptops, jewellery and other valuables.
Detective Constable Marcus Mills said that during one burglary, in Bath Road, Giles was forced to flee after being confronted by the occupant.
He said: ‘The victim was upstairs in the bath when he heard noises downstairs.
‘It took him a while to get downstairs and when he did he was confronted by a male in his hallway.’
At a house in Festing Road, the occupant, who had two young children, woke up at 6.30am to find that all the downstairs rooms had been searched.
Giles was charged with 11 counts of burglary.
After a trial at Portsmouth Crown Court, he was found guilty of five of them along with one count of fraud.
Detective Constable Marcus Mills said Giles had a sad history of burglary, and the stiff sentence he received was a warning to others.
Det Con Mills said: ‘This sends a clear message that burglary will not be tolerated in Portsmouth or Hampshire and that those convicted of such offences will face considerable prison terms.
‘This sentence will hopefully give some closure to the victims.’
Giles was arrested at a house in Waverley Road, Southsea on October 16 last year, where police found a stash of stolen property hidden behind a bathroom panel.
Det Con Mills said the property recovered was of little value, as Giles had probably not been able to sell it on.
Originally from Newcastle, Giles never admitted to living at the house and gave no home address to the police.