Cocaine-user took £20k diamond necklace from James Usher Jewellers in Lincoln
A thief who snatched £20,000 worth of jewellery after distracting staff at a city centre shop has been put behind bars.
David Stephenson visited the James Usher Jewellers in Guildhall Street in September asking to look at a display of rings in the window.
Steve Taylor, prosecuting, told Lincoln Crown Court that Stephenson told staff he wanted to buy a present for his wife and identified a ring which he asked to be gift wrapped.
As staff prepared the item he walked out of the shop saying he was going to speak to his wife.
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But he never returned and staff, suspicious at what happened, checked their CCTV security cameras and discovered that during the transaction he reached into a cabinet and took a 18ct diamond necklace worth £20,350.
The offence was a number of similar thefts carried out by Stephenson at jewellery shops across the country which netted him more than £300,000 worth of items.
Mr Taylor said that Stephenson carried out thefts from shops in King's Lynn, Retford, Blackpool, Nottingham, Beverley, Chichester and Bicester.
Although he was arrested and bailed on two occasions he was only finally brought to justice in November after staff at a jewellery shop in Birmingham noticed he was behaving suspiciously.
They contacted police after recognising him from publicity material distributed as part of the Safer Gems Alert, set up to counteract similar thefts.
Stephenson, 37, of Malvern Road, Doncaster, admitted a total of nine charges of theft during the 12 months up to October this year and one charge of common assault. He was jailed for five years and three months.
The court heard he had a number of previous convictions for identical offences.
Judge Michael Heath said: "You are a professional thief. There have to be substantial sentences in these cases."
Julian Gaskin, defending, said Stephenson suffered a heart scare after his arrest and ended up in Lincoln County Hospital suffering from chest pains. He said Stephenson was a cocaine user and his heart problem was linked to the drug taking.
"He has a partner and two young children. He has recently felt he is going to die if he carries on misusing drugs.
"He is motivated to change his lifestyle and remain, as best he can, drug free."