BURGLAR Albert James has been jailed for eight years after targeting an ‘unprecedented’ 51 homes in a string of ‘professional burglaries’.
James, 58, who is blind in his left eye, struck over seven weeks at homes across Hampshire and West Sussex.
Prosecutor Tim Moores revealed at Portsmouth Crown Court that James stole more than £110,000-worth of items, mainly jewellery.
The court heard Sarah Newton returned home from the funeral of her three-day-old granddaughter to find James had stolen irreplaceable jewellery she planned to give her surviving relatives.
Speaking outside court Mrs Newton, of Friars Pond Road, Catisfield, Fareham, said: ‘He’s a scumbag.’
Dozens of items, including necklaces and a gold signet rings, were stolen.
Her statement said: ‘I was devastated to phone my son and tell him that jewellery had been stolen when I had been planning to pass that on to other grandchildren.’
Victim Jane Maddock, of Argyle Crescent, Fareham, said: ‘The burglary left me feeling that my home was dirty and contaminated.’
Newly-married James had denied all the burglaries, but was found guilty at trial.
He struck at dusk at homes he thought were empty. But twice occupants, one of them in St Vincent Crescent, Horndean, were woken as he smashed his way in using bricks.
James left no forensic trace, but was tracked down after the silver Mitsubishi Shogun he drove was seen on ANPR. Detectives then used mobile phone data to prove he was in the area at the times of burglaries.
He stole from homes in Waterlooville, Fareham, Portsmouth, Bognor Regis, Littlehampton and Chichester.
Sentencing him to eight years in prison, Judge Roger Hetherington said: ‘These were highly professional burglaries. It’s rightly described as a campaign of professional burgling, in the course of which you deliberately targeted properties you believed were unoccupied.’
Damian Hayes, defending, said the thief was sorry, but the judge called this an ‘empty gesture’.
Detective Constable Jon Woolley, from Sussex, said: ‘The scale of it was unprecedented over such a short period of time.’
James, of Mill Pond Crescent, Donnington, near Chichester, was found guilty of 47 counts of burglary and four attempted burglaries.
He started his spree on October 25, 2014, with the last crime on December 10, 2014.
Total values of items stolen in individual burglaries ranged from £90 to £20,800. James has burglary convictions dating back to 1973.
Detective Sergeant Simon Clacey, from Hampshire police, oversaw the 20-month investigation with Detective Constable Rebecca Brown.