A BOGUS antiques dealer who duped a frail Hampshire pensioner has been jailed for 22 months.

Lee Smith went on the run halfway through his trial at Southampton Crown Court for tricking 85-year-old stroke victim John Scarborough.

But the 44-year-old was convicted of theft by jurors in his absence after they heard how he had stolen 13 Victorian gold sovereigns worth at least £1,300, along with £540 Mr Scarborough had saved to pay for a holiday.

The court was told how Smith had a string of previous convictions for similar offences where he had tricked elderly people.

Smith was in court for sentencing when Judge Michael Harington told him: "It is hard to imagine a meaner crime, and I am quite satisfied that only a custodial sentence can be justified. You have an appalling record, but I do give particular weight to the fact that you have been out of trouble for some time following this offence."

Smith had 17 convictions for fraud offences and 22 for thefts, mainly in Hampshire and Wales. The court was told how he had:

l Stolen jewellery and silverware from a Portsmouth pensioner, then treated himself to a holiday with the proceeds.

l Tricked a 77-year-old woman and stolen a £10,000 ring from her Wales home

l Duped a recently-widowed Petersfield pensioner after pretending he was interested in buying his caravan.

Smith, of Nelson Avenue, Portsmouth, who had denied theft, was jailed for 18 months, with an additional four months imposed for breaching bail.

During the trial, the court was told how Smith had tricked his way into the Blackfield home of Mr Scarborough by pretending he wanted to buy ornaments.

Once inside, he managed to drop the gold sovereigns into his pocket and stole cash while pretending to look inside an envelope for vintage notes.

The incident happened just a week after the pensioner had undergone an operation to have a pacemaker fitted.

Tim Mousley, in mitigation, said there were signs Smith had changed his ways.

An application for compensation was rejected.