An 84-year-old widow was left heartbroken when her only mementoes of her dead husband were stolen and sold to pay drug debts.

Dale Berry, from South Molton, visited the pensioner's home in Coventry as a guest but he was only looking for a chance to steal from her, Exeter Crown Court has heard.

She became suspicious and started locking her bedroom door but Berry got in when he arrived unannounced and claimed he needed to go upstairs to use the toilet.

He stole £600 cash from her bag and 15 items of jewellery including her wedding, engagement and eternity rings. He sold them at pawn shops for a fraction of their value and the pensioner only got four minor items back.

In her victim impact statement, she said: 'My husband died in 2008 and these things were very special and a private memory which I will not get back.'

The shock of the theft was so great that she became ill and had to spend time in hospital and a care home before returning to the house.

Berry, aged 27, of South Street, South Molton, admitted burglary and three counts of fraud and was jailed for 12 months, suspended for two years, curfewed for six months and ordered to pay £500 compensation by Judge Timothy Rose.

He told him: 'What you did was utterly contemptible. This was a particularly mean offence.

'You were creeping around her house, sneaking upstairs and spending a suspiciously long time in the toilet. The things you stole were particularly damaging to her and included items of great sentimental value.

'You took away her history and memories of her departed husband. It was profoundly upsetting.'

Berry stole the jewellery and cash in January and February 2018 and was filmed on CCTV at a local jewellers and pawn brokers where he sold the valuables for a pittance.

Berry later told police he needed the money to pay £4,000 to drug dealers after a cannabis growing scheme failed.

Felicity Payne, defending, said Berry has stayed out of trouble during the two years it has taken to bring the case to court.

He cannot work because of mental health issues and he and his partner are living on benefits.