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Callous thieves burgled much loved Islington pensioner’s home days after her death

PUBLISHED: 06:43 14 February 2013

Rene and George Darvell

Rene and George Darvell

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Two charity workers were almost lynched by their own community for ransacking the home of an elderly widow just five days after she had died, a court heard this week.

Zack Heaton, 20, and Jessie Courtney, 21, stole jewellery and cash from Rene Darvell’s house in Bradley Close, Holloway, as her devastated relatives came to terms with her death.

Her family discovered the callous thieves had even swiped a silver crucifix which had been hanging on an urn containing the ashes of Mrs Darvell’s late husband George.

Det Sgt Mark Attridge told Blackfriars Crown Court the community was incensed when news spread of the burglary on August 10.

“There was almost a lynch mob mentality,” he said. “There was certainly tension in the area, with members of the neighbourhood trying to locate the people responsible.

“Police had to speak to people quite forcibly and point out it was a matter best left for the police to deal with.

“If these people [the burglars] hadn’t been dealt with by the police, we felt there may be repercussions which would likely affect their safety.”

Fingerprints belonging to Heaton, a volunteer charity shop worker of Spencer Rise, Tufnell Park, and Courtney, of Caledonian Road, Holloway, who worked for ChildLine and NSPCC, were found at the scene, although they are not thought to have acted alone.

The pair eventually handed themselves in after learning they were wanted for questioning but the other culprits have never been found.

Both had been drinking all day and joined others in climbing through the kitchen window of Mrs Darvell’s home, the court was told.

Heaton and Courtney, a former semi-professional footballer, were spared jail at Blackfriars Crown Court but ordered to carry out 180 hours community service to atone for the break-in. Both admitted burglary.

Heaton was sentenced to 12 months in a young offenders institute, suspended for two years, and Courtney received a 12-month prison sentence, also suspended for two years.

Sentencing, Judge John Hillen said: “What you did was cause immense distress to the family of the woman who had lived there.

“At a time when they were bereaved and in a state of grief at the loss of their relative, they had to face the fact her property had been invaded and sentimental items had been taken from it.’’

“That understandably caused a considerable local reaction and you were very fortunate the police officers were able to defuse the situation, otherwise you would have found yourselves on the receiving end of instant dealing in the local area.”

The items have still not been returned to Mrs Darvell’s family.


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