A horrified man was abroad when he received an alert on his phone and saw a CCTV recording from his home of an intruder who escaped with a safe containing his late wife’s ashes.
Fortunately, although university-educated burglar Liam O’Rourke managed to break into the safe and take a large quantity of jewellery, the urn containing the ashes was later recovered.
And before being jailed, O’Rourke told a judge at Warwick Crown Court that he ‘can’t even begin to imagine how distressing’ it must have been, and that he was disgusted with himself.
O’Rourke (34) of Stanton Walk, Warwick, was jailed for 14 months after pleading guilty to the burglary and a further charge of theft.
Prosecutor Raj Punia said the burgled property was a bungalow in Radford Semele, where the owner lived alone following the death of his wife.
He was abroad at the time, but he received an alert on his phone at 6.37am UK time from the security system which sent him images showing someone in his property.
He was outside at the time, so did not receive the alert until he was inside a building with wi-fi access, and immediately contacted his brother-in-law who went to check the bungalow.
But the police had already been alerted by a neighbour who had heard a noise and had gone outside to check and seen the conservatory door was open.
O’Rourke had escaped with many items and an urn containing the owner’s late wife’s ashes.
After leaving, he approached a man who was getting into his van to go to work and asked him for a lift.
The driver refused, and O’Rourke then asked if he had any tools in the van, telling him: “I need to break into something. I’ll split it with you. It could be worth 20 or 30 grand.”
The offer was rejected, and O’Rourke was later seen on the towpath of the Grand Union canal trying to open the safe.
He succeeded, and took jewellery and a watch, but fortunately left the urn behind which was recovered by the police.
Two days later O’Rourke, who had 17 previous convictions, including several for theft and one for burgling a narrow boat, stole four bottles of Jack Daniels from Sainsburys in Warwick.
He had put them into a rucksack which he abandoned when he was challenged by a security guard and made off, but was arrested after being identified from a CCTV recording.
O’Rourke admitted both offences, and said he had been in Radford Semele to buy drugs, and had needed to commit the burglary to get money for his addiction.
Miss Punia added that the householder was left feeling distressed by the burglary, particularly because the jewellery was of great sentimental value, but that he said it was ‘a relief’ that the urn was recovered.
O’Rourke, appearing via a video link from prison, said he wanted to ‘express the deep remorse I feel for my actions.’
He stressed: “I had no idea the contents of the safe were of such a sentimental nature. Since I found out, I have felt overwhelmingly disgusted with myself.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how distressing losing something so sentimental must feel for this gentleman, and I’m grateful to the police that they have recovered them.”
His barrister Lucy Tapper said O’Rourke had a Masters degree from the Metropolitan University in London, and had hoped his skill in music technology would be transferrable to a job he had obtained, but it was not.
He lost the job, which had triggered a relapse into drug-taking and led to the offences, but he was now ‘on the right track to get his life back in order.’
Sentencing O’Rourke, Judge Peter Cooke told him: “You are clearly a highly intelligent, capable young man with a great deal of potential, if you can achieve what you are determined to achieve by putting your drug problems behind you.
“I accept that when you took the safe you didn’t think a deceased lady’s ashes were going to be in that safe, and you didn’t spirit it away once you had stolen the more saleable items.
“I recognise the genuineness of the remorse you have expressed. It is not too late for you to turn your life around, but if you fail, and remain on a track of drug abuse, the future is very bleak indeed.”