A burglar snorting £200 of cocaine a day raided 41 homes in just over four months to feed his spiralling habit.
Patrick Symes, 31, from Kirkby but of no fixed address, "ransacked" properties across Merseyside and West Lancashire in a "despicable" spree.
He ignored valuable electrical items in favour of easily movable cash, jewellery and watches – in many cases treasured and irreplaceable items.
The "prolific" crook took a wedding ring from one woman, which had belonged to her late husband, a ring gifted to a dad by his son, and a gold chain and silver locket one victim inherited from her mum and gran.
He even stole medals from an Army veteran in Litherland who served with the 3rd Battalion Rifles for 24 years, taking medals from tours of duty in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan, of "great sentimental value".
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Liverpool Crown Court heard the dad-of-three had a pattern of targeting homes which were either unoccupied, or appeared to be, in the early evening.
Anthony O'Donohoe, prosecuting, said he gained entry by smashing rear patio and kitchen windows and doors, using garden tools such as spades and shears, belonging to victims or their neighbours.
Symes targeted homes in West Derby, Childwall, Crosby, Waterloo, Bootle, Litherland, Formby, Southport, Burscough, Ormskirk and Maghull, but didn't always gain entry, and sometimes was disturbed and fled.
In total he stole thousands of pounds worth of gold, platinum and silver wedding and engagement rings, diamond-set pieces, designer watches and family heirlooms.
Detectives working as part of Operation Castle were able to link him by CCTV, glove marks, footprints and his clothing to the "spree", between October 2018 and February 2019.
They also connected him by phone evidence and ANPR data to his driver, Lewis Smith, 30, of Pauline Walk, Fazakerley, who helped him on four raids.
The pair were arrested in Smith's Volkswagen Touareg on February 27 last year, when jewellery from a burglary in Formby was found in the front passenger footwell.
Symes gave a prepared statement in interview, denying any wrongdoing and claiming he found the jewellery in a plastic bag hidden in bushes.
Smith denied participating in any burglaries and said he didn't want to answer any questions about Symes, but both men later admitted conspiracy to commit burglary.
The woman whose husband's ring was stolen was visiting her father-in-law during the burglary, who died that same day, adding to her trauma.
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Another victim said her home was "trashed", she felt "absolutely violated" and jewellery stolen included an item left by her late mum.
One victim decided to leave her home of 36 years, while others spent thousands of pounds on CCTV cameras, lights and alarms to feel safer.
A mum who returned home from celebrating her daughter's eighth birthday to find items including her parents' wedding rings gone had to undergo therapy.
She revealed her daughter didn't want to go out to celebrate her ninth birthday, because she feared they would be burgled again.
Symes has 17 previous convictions for 18 offences, including non-dwelling burglaries as a youth in 2005 and 2007, plus theft and possessing drugs.
David Kilty, defending Symes, said he admitted his crimes at an early stage, including offences he may not have been convicted of, because "he knew exactly what he had done wrong and how despicable his behaviour has been".
He said: "This is an indication on his part of what is genuine remorse and shame."
Mr Kilty said the forklift truck driver had three young children and was a carer for an aunt, but during a "period of chaos" when addicted to cocaine built up a debt, which "spiralled out of control".
He said his client was using "up to £200 of illegal drugs a day" and while he didn't intend to hurt anyone, accepted he had "little regard" for his victims.
Mr Kilty said: "It's something he will be ashamed of for the rest of his days."
Smith has 13 previous convictions for 14 offences, including non-dwelling burglaries in 2006 and 2007, minor violence and possessing drugs.
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Stella Hayden, defending Smith, said the former warehouseman, labourer and cleaner's role was limited to driving Symes.
She said he changed his ways in 2012, when he met his partner and became a step dad to her two sons, who he wanted to be a role model to.
Ms Hayden said they had a third child and his pregnant girlfriend in court was expecting a fourth in October, which made his decision to get involved "all the more disappointing".
Judge Garrett Byrne told Symes it was "an appalling spree of domestic burglaries" which "must clearly be met with a substantial period of imprisonment".
He said: "Your conduct has caused a very high degree of distress and expense to a great many people."
The judge said victims were left feeling unsafe in their own homes, with one describing it as a "living nightmare", and another feeling like a "nervous wreck".
He said one lady was looking after the house of a woman in her 80s, who was in hospital awaiting heart surgery, when her home was ransacked.
Judge Byrne said: "She said the presence of equipment for a disabled person would have been obvious to the heartless person who burgled her property."
He said Smith was "in a very different position" and was "significantly less involved", but still lent a hand to the conspiracy.
Members of Symes' family gasped in the public gallery as he was jailed for 10 years.
Smith was handed two years and three months behind bars.
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Speaking after the case, Detective Constable John Neville said: "It is satisfying to see Symes and Smith removed from the streets for the foreseeable future. They are two offenders who targeted homes in the early evening hours in autumn and winter months. Symes would use garden implements found at the location or nearby to force into home and steal cash and jewellery.
"The impact on victims of burglary can be immense, with people left feeling distressed, insecure and unsafe in their own homes. Successful investigations like this have an equally significant and positive impact on the communities. We remain committed to finding the people responsible and bringing them to justice.
"Operation Castle is our ongoing response to burglary offences across Merseyside and was set up to pursue and put before the courts anyone suspected of being involved in burglary offences in our communities. Since we began, offenders have been sentenced to more than 300 years in prison, and burglary offences dropped by 18.9% across Merseyside in 2019. It’s thanks to information provided by those communities affected that we can record such results.
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"I would ask if you see or hear anyone acting suspiciously close to homes or businesses, let us know and we will keep taking positive action to bring offenders to justice."
Advice on how to keep your valuable safe and secure; marking your property to deter burglars, and a checklist when leaving the home can be found at https://www.merseyside.police.uk/cp/crime-prevention/residential-burglary/
Some advice to help keep goods safe:
Lock all doors and windows, even when at home
Keep valuables out of sight of anyone passing by.
Remove keys from doors once they are locked.
Don't leave your car keys on display (on window ledges/worktops) and don't leave them by doors or windows where they could be grabbed with a hook or cane.
Secure your shed and garage properly.
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Don't leave tools lying around these could be used to help offender gain entry to your home.
Don’t leave any empty boxes advertising new electrical equipment you may have bought outside your house. Try to dispose of the packaging carefully by taking it to a recycling centre or keep it out of sight until the day your rubbish is collected.
Consider investing in a safe and keeping valuable possessions inside. Keep the safe in a secure, hidden place and do not share the code or key with anyone.
Report any suspicious people, vehicles or behaviour in your neighbourhood.
Always call 999 if a burglary is in progress and you can also report any information on suspected burglary and sale of stolen goods via @MerPolCC or anonymously to @CrimestoppersUK on 0800 555 111. #OpCastle #BeatTheBurglar