Sunderland woman stole veteran's cherished collection of watches while he had amputation

Newcastle crown and combined magistrates court, Newcastle Quayside
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

A treacherous friend stole a high value watch collection from an armed forces veteran who was in hospital having an amputation.

Janet Behrsing had been asked to care for the cherished timepieces while the owner had the serious operation and moved house in 2020. But Newcastle Crown Court heard she took 10 of the expensive watches to a jeweller, who gave her £4,000 for them as scrap before they were melted down.

Behrsing, 61, then claimed the missing watches had been stolen from her during a street mugging which left her in hospital but later confessed that was made up and pleaded guilty to theft. The devastated owner, who served 19 years in the Royal Engineers, got some of his collection back but said some of the watches taken from him were irreplaceable heirlooms.

He said in a victim impact statement: "She took the watches and sold them and left me feeling absolutely depressed in respect of this matter. This is a woman I had trusted and known for ten years as a friend and been kind and generous towards, I had paid for her holidays and given her money when she needed it.

"I thought we were close friends and I trusted her. Of particular ongoing distress is some of the watches were sentimental value, left to me by relatives and provided much by way of memories.

"She has taken those memories away from me. I consider that to be so cruel. I have been so kind to her over the years and she has treated me with disdain when I thought I could trust her."

The court heard no exact value could be determined for the watch collection or the missing pieces but the owner believes he was left tens of thousands out of pocket and feels let down by the justice system.

Prosecutor Matthew Hopkins told the court the victim had been friends with Behrsing for over a decade and he trusted her to take care of his collection, containing around 100 pieces, when he was hospitalised for three months in June 2020 for a foot amputation.

When he was discharged from hospital he moved into a new home and it was not until the following year he asked for his watches, that he had collected for around two decades, to be returned.

But Mr Hopkins told the court: "She didn't do so and provided excuses why she hadn't got round to it. He became suspicious and arranged to meet her on August 13 2021 but while he was waiting to meet her he received a call from Sunderland Royal Hospital saying the defendant had been mugged.

"He went to the hospital, the defendant was there and told him she had ben robbed and that his watch collection had been stolen in the process."

The court heard when police checked CCTV it showed the robbery story had been "made up" and some of the watches were eventually given back to the owner, who said around 20 were still missing.

Recorder Nathan Moxon sentenced Behrsing, of Althelstan Rigg, Sunderland, to eight months, suspended for 12 months, with rehabilitation requirements, 160 hours unpaid work and £3,600 compensation order. The recorder said the offences was "particularly unpleasant".

Annalisa Moscardini, defending, told the court: "She is very sorry about what happened. She was in a terrible way during this period." Miss Moscardini said Behrsing, who is "kind and thoughtful" had been helping the victim with chores but was struggling with her own stress at the time and had "taken on far too much" and turned to alcohol.

Miss Moscardini added that Behrsing, who has never been in trouble before, had debt problems and said: "She made an awful mess of things and she accepts that."