THE customers of window cleaner Stephen Garner probably thought he would keep an eye out for burglars as he did his round.

But little did they know he was checking where his clients kept their cash so he could come back and clean out more than their double glazing.

The dad has now been sent to prison for three years and four months after stealing from three of his customers and forcing his way into an 88-year-old woman’s home before fleeing when she looked up from her bed to see him standing in the doorway.

Charlie Gabb, prosecuting at Southampton Crown Court, said the 36-year-old used “the guise and cover of his window cleaning business”.

“It was clearly the means by which he came upon these houses and did what he did,” he added.

Garner, of Northam Road, Southampton, had been cleaning the windows of a house in Hordle, near Lymington, for more than two years and it was his fingerprints found on a money box from which £420 had gone missing on June 17 this year, the court heard.

Mr Gabb said the home owner had trusted him.

“She made the mistake of allowing him to see her going into a room to collect cash and emerging from that room and paying him. That told him there was cash in the house and that’s where she kept it.”

Another customer, a teacher, found the £60 she had left on her worktop at her Lymington home was missing after witnesses saw Garner visit on November 10, Mr Gabb said. “She trusted him too.

He looked through the window and saw the money and walked into the kitchen before making a very hasty exit,” he said.

Mr Gabb told the court the crimes put Garner in breach of a community order of unpaid work imposed on January 5 for stealing from a handbag on the kitchen table of a window cleaning customer aged in her 80s last year.

Garner admitted breaching the community order and the three new burglary charges.

David Lyons, defending, said his client wanted to make a “sincere, unconditional and abject apology” to Mrs Surrey, who was in court.

Mr Lyons cited Garner’s “chequered late youth” and his fall into depression as well as a “toxic” mix of irregular use of anti-depressants and drinking as factors in the crimes. “He’s thrown his business away, his relationship and his liberty,”

he said.

Judge Derwin Hope said Garner had 18 previous offences and had “abused the trust” of his customers.

“It’s not just the money you stole but the manner in which you acted,”

he said.

Garner was given three years for each of the three burglaries but with those sentences to run at the same time. He received an extra four months for breaching the community order he was serving for theft from a house and two counts of making false representation last year.