AN elderly couple were woken in the dead of night to find a burglar in their bedroom rummaging through their belongings.
The shocking incident was just one of a series of despicable burglaries and frauds committed against mostly vulnerable victims by Michael O’Keefe on a crime spree that saw him jailed for six years.
A very severe matter and one which requires severe punishmentJudge Tony Briggs
The shameless 34-year-old stole thousands of pounds of property including sentimental jewellery and photos of one victim’s dead wife in raids across the North East.
In another sickening crime O’Keefe drove a 78-year-old Hartlepool woman to the bank twice and took £2,300 from her after threatening to take her to court over building work.
Teesside Crown Court heard how O’Keefe carried out the frightening nighttime burglary in Dundee Road, Hartlepool, after removing a panel from the back door.
The couple had gone to bed at 10.30pm but were awoken by O’Keefe in their bedroom at 12.30am on October 22.
Prosecutor Harry Hadfield said: “The wife was shouting her husband’s name. The defendant had entered the bedroom. They were both in bed.
“The defendant was at the side where the wife sleeps. He was near her bedside cabinet.”
O’Keefe fled after being disturbed. He got away with a 40-inch television, large amount of jewellery, mobile phone and purse containing the woman’s bus pass.
The 81-year-old husband said in a statement: “The thought of someone not only coming into my home but into the bedroom is frightening.
“My wife will never get over it.”
Around a week earlier O’Keefe went to the home of a 78-year-old woman in Roxby Close, Hartlepool, who had previously been visited about getting some roof work done.
Mr Hadfield said: “The defendant told her the contractors had been using his name and he was going to take her to court.
“He said he needed £3,000 for VAT and she could claim it back from the court.”
When the woman said she did not have any money on her, he drove her to the bank, where she withdrew £300.
The next day he drove her to her building society in Hartlepool town centre and took another £2,000 off her.
Council carers who visit the victim’s home reported it to their managers when they found out and O’Keefe was identified from CCTV.
In a daytime burglary in Ellory Walk, Hartlepool, on November 21, O’Keefe stole a 42-inch TV, sentimental jewellery including an engraved bracelet that belonged to the 65-year-old victim’s father, and photos of his late wife that were in a wallet.
O’Keefe had rifled through every room in the house, said Mr Hadfield.
The victim said in a statement: “This burglary has been devastating to me. He has been in my bedroom and ransacked my personal belongings.”
O’Keefe also got away with £5,000 of property when he burgled a 29-year-old woman’s home in Catcote Road, Hartlepool, while she was out at work on October 21.
Again he searched through every room of the house and stole electrical items, jewellery and a small amount of cash.
The owner said: “I keep waking up at every little noise. I feel violated that strangers have been rooting through every nook and cranny of my home.”
O’Keefe also admitted fraud against a 62-year-old woman in Whitley Bay, from August 7 last year.
He took £1,300 – most of the victim’s savings – for roof work which he started but never completed.
And he pleaded guilty to burgling the home of a 71-year-old woman in Middlesbrough on October 7.
O’Keefe made off after being discovered and pushing the woman out of his way.
Much of the victims’ property was recovered when Hartlepool detectives raided an address in Glamis Walk, Hartlepool, where O’Keefe was found with two other men.
Andrew Teate, mitigating, said O’Keefe, who has a record for burglary, blew £80,000 he amassed while working with his dad after a drugs habit spiralled out of control.
Mr Teate said: “When the money dwindled he regrettably embarked on this criminal enterprise for a short space of time.
“He’s not proud of the situation. This is unpleasant and unpalatable offending.”
Sentencing O’Keefe, of Stanmore Grove, Hartlepool, Judge Tony Briggs said: “This is very unattractive offending.”
He said of the most serious burglary of the elderly couple at night: “That’s a very severe matter and one which requires severe punishment.”
Liam Campbell, 27, and Neil Auton, 35, who were found with O’Keefe and the stolen property when he was arrested both admitted handling stolen goods.
Campbell, of Glamis Walk, was given nine months’ prison and Auton, of Innes Road, six months, both suspended for two years.