Churchgoer from Northumberland jailed after stealing thousands from 89-year-old widow

A churchgoer has been jailed for a year for stealing thousands of pounds of precious items from a friend.

By Gareth Crickmer
Thursday, 6th February 2020, 4:35 pm
Sandra Bullock.
Sandra Bullock.

Sandra Bullock, 69, took broaches, ornaments and antiques worth at least £6,000 from the 89-year-old widow’s home near Longframlington, Northumberland, over five years to April 2018.

But the haul may have been higher, with an unknown number of other pieces suspected of having gone missing, Newcastle Crown Court was told.

The court heard Bullock’s thefts placed huge stress on the victim and on her relationships with her family, due to items vanishing and being unaccounted for.

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Bullock, of Simonside View, Rothbury, was finally rumbled after she visited the victim and was told by her that she was due to attend her grandson’s wedding.

Prosecutor Alec Burns said Bullock used a stolen key to get into her empty home around three weeks later on April 22.

However, the owner of a neighbouring stables heard two loud bangs and found Bullock coming around from the back of the property.

Mr Burns said: “The defendant was her friend for some 20 years, they had met at church, the defendant had visited her many times for tea and chat.

“A lot of things started to go missing, as long ago as 2013. [The victim] had a safe under the stairs, it had a spare key and that was missing. It appears the defendant had taken it.”

Mr Burns said a horse rider spotted a car at the property and alerted the stable owner, who in turn asked her husband to investigate.

He added: “He called the police after they heard two loud bangs. He saw the defendant come from round the back. She said that she was a friend.

“She said that she was allowed to be there and denied knowing that [the victim] was away at a wedding.”

The woman found a golden butterfly broach with gems, valued at £4,400, and three tea caddies, valued at over £1,000 in total, missing on her return two days later, it was said.

In a victim impact statement read to the court, she said: “I don’t know how Sandra could do this to me, it’s a shame because you lose trust in people.

“I feel let down by Sandra. The experience has had the effect of ageing me 10 years.”

Addressing the court, her daughter said she believed up to £25,000 of items had been taken, of which the insurance company paid out £15,000.

She said: “This worst aspect of this crime was the emotional toll this has taken on myself and my mother. She was targeted at a vulnerable time after she was widowed.

“Things were disappearing, piece by piece, with no apparent explanation over a period of five years.

“It made us suspect everyone we knew, both family and friends. Mum began thinking that she was doing things without knowing it.”

Geoff Knowles, defending, said Bullock had a troubled childhood and had suffered serious mental health disorders throughout her life – and was now an outcast from her social circle due to her crimes.

Stating her marriage had also broken down, he added: “All her life, she has taken possessions from friends’ houses.

“The items that are taken are not necessarily of monetary value or for monetary gain. It’s something that she is extremely remorseful and ashamed of.

“We are dealing with someone who is an extremely damaged individual, who is not doing this out of traditional malice and badness.

“She has lost everything because of her actions, and she has lost everything in such a way that she now has to attempt to rebuild her life once more.”

Judge Sarah Mallett: “A number of items had been going missing some from the locked safe. The complainant and her daughter did not know who was taken them and were very concerned about it.

“The fact is it was you who had been taking the items, which was discovered when your house was searched as a result of the burglary.

“On the family’s return to the property, they discovered jewellery missing from the safe, it had been there before they left to go to the wedding, the complainant had told you of her plans.

“You never normally visited on a Sunday and the inevitable conclusion is you visited the house on that occasion for the purposes of stealing.”

Bullock admitted to one charge each of theft and burglary on the day of her expected trial in December.

She was jailed for 12 months for the burglary and three months for theft, to run concurrently.