Victim thought she was ‘going crazy’

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A WOMAN has told how she thought she was “going crazy” when cash vanished and objects were moved about in her house - until she discovered it was her next-door neighbour sneaking in through their adjoining lofts.

Hartlepool woman Denise Smettem finally realised the culprit was her sly neighbour Derek Oates, who was jailed for two years and three months at Teesside Crown Court – as previously reported by the Mail.

Denise, 39, said: “I thought he was a nice neighbour that I could trust, but he has left me feeling absolutely terrified.”

The saga started when Denise found herself locked out of her home in Dent Street, Hartlepool, two years ago and she knocked on Oates’ door for help.

Oates, 32, came up with a solution of crawling through a small gap in the wall of his loft and he returned just moments later with the keys.

But that marked the start of a catalogue of suspicious goings-on in Denise’s house with a £10 note going missing, sometimes £5 notes and loose change.

“I thought I was going crazy, as if I was imagining the whole thing,” she said.

Denise returned home one day to find black handprints on the wall and loft insulation on the carpet and she realised Oates had been in her home through the hole in the loft – the thought of which “sent chills” down her spine.

She began to tell police all when a pang of guilt over how desperate Oates must have been to steal from her, caused her to drop the charges.

The disappearances stopped until May 10 when her house was completely ransacked and police nabbed Oates after he left a bloody hand print smeared on a wall.

When police confronted Oates they also found he had bypassed his electricity meter and he later admitted abstracting electricity and the burglary.