A CROOKED cleaner stole almost £30,000 worth of jewellery from a widow before pawning it off for a fraction of the price and using the cash to splash out on trips and holidays.

Clair Smith found and stole from her victim's secret stash of expensive jewellery while working as a cleaner at the woman's Hampshire home.

The jewellery, which included rings, bracelets and earrings, were gifted to the woman by her husband before his death.

The 48-year-old then pawned off three of the items, thought to be worth around £10,000, for less than a £1,000 and used the money to splash out on trips and holidays.

Now the mother-of-one has been jailed for 15 months by a judge, who branded her as "thoroughly dishonest" and said her actions were a "gross breach of trust".

Southampton Crown Court heard how Smith was employed as a cleaner at her victim's home in Brockenhurst when the theft took place, between December 2018 and April 2019.

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Prosecutor Tim Moores told the court how the victim kept her jewellery in two places, with some in a secret compartment in her kitchen and another in a safe.

But the woman discovered that eight pieces of her jewellery collection had gone missing.

She reported the missing jewellery to the police, who made Smith a suspect – due to her being a key-holder for the house and having access to the alarm codes.

But it was not until staff from H&T Pawnbrokers gave key information to police that Smith was arrested.

Mr Moores said: "The pawnbrokers said that they had bought three of the items from the defendant.

"Those items were two rings and a bracelet with a value of around £10,000. She (Smith) had pawned them for £990.

"She was invited for a police interview, in which she made admissions, but continued to maintain she had not taken any jewellery from the safe."

Mr Moores said the three pieces of jewellery were returned by the pawnbroker, while the five other pieces of jewellery, valued at more than £18,000, were never recovered.

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He said the victim had been left "devastated" by the loss of the jewellery and had found it "particularly upsetting" that they had been stolen by a "trusted cleaner".

Smith pleaded guilty to one count of theft and fraud, in relation to her selling the jewellery to a pawnbroker, on the basis that she had only stolen three of the items.

But at an earlier finding-of-fact hearing, known as a Newton Hearing, a judge ruled that Smith had stolen the other five items.

In mitigation, Edward Warren urged Judge Nicholas Rowland to consider imposing a suspended sentence on Smith, due to the impact on the cleaner's 15-year-old daughter.

But Judge Rowland said he was unable to suspend the sentence of Smith, who has one previous conviction for benefit fraud.

He said: "You were in a position of trust and it was a high degree of trust that was granted to you.

"Your way to repay that trust was to steal from her. She was a widow and what you did was a gross breach of trust.

"Looking at the evidence it seems you were using that money in part to go off on various trips and holidays.

"In my judgement you are a thoroughly dishonest person."