A Brixington window fitter stole jewellery from elderly customers’ homes to pay his cocaine debts, magistrates have heard.

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James Veale, 30, of Priddis Close, carried out the thefts when visiting the properties to work.

The first theft, on September 7 last year, was from a 90-year-old Exmouth woman, who hired the window company Veale worked for to replace her kitchen door.

A week after the work had been completed, she discovered that a ring worth £350 had been stolen.

Two months later, on November 14, a 70-year-old woman with a holiday home in Sidmouth hired the company to repair a sash window, and Veale was one of the workmen who called.

Two days later, the victim noticed that two rings with a total value of more than £3,000 had been taken.

When police arrested Veale, he confessed to taking the jewellery and said he had sold the items to a cash-for-gold shop.

When police went to the business, they were able to recover the items taken from Sidmouth, but were told the ring taken from Exmouth had already been melted down.

Appearing at Exeter Magistrates’ Court, Veale pleaded guilty to the two thefts. He also asked for a third theft to be taken into consideration.

The court heard that when the offences took place, Veale was struggling with a bereavement and problems at work, which he tried to cope with by using cocaine. At the height of the problem, Veale was spending around £350 a week on the drug, and ended up in debt to payday loan companies and drug dealers, which led him to commit the “opportunistic” thefts to raise funds.

Veale’s solicitor James Rickard said his client expressed “deep remorse” for the thefts, which had cost him his job of ten years.

Although he had been accompanied by colleagues during the work at the houses, the court heard that Veale, who had no previous convictions, acted alone.

Magistrates ordered Veale to complete 120 hours of unpaid work and pay £350 compensation to the victim whose ring was lost.

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