Former Sussex antiques dealer turned bogus door-to-door salesman jailed for four years after targeting elderly Teesside victims
Lee Millis - said to have been an antiques dealer before becoming a heroin addict at the age of 56 - was told his crimes were "despicable".
The father-of-four ended up living in Middlesbrough after a marriage split, losing his job, his driving licence and becoming homeless.
Desperate for money for drugs, the 57-year-old toured streets looking for homes - usually bungalows - where it was obvious old folk lived.
He pretended he bought and sold jewellery and ornaments, had small clear bag full of gold and coins, and a leaflet he gave householders.
But Millis either tricked or forced his way inside the properties, tried to confuse his victims, and usually left having stolen something.
Over the course of three months last year, he struck in and around Middlesbrough at least eight times, Teesside Crown Court was told.
An 89-year-old who lost ornaments, a pendant and an emerald ring, told in a statement how she now sleeps in a different bedroom to feel safe.
A second victim, 80, is frightened to answer her door after she realised Millis had stolen two rings after bluffing his way into her home.
A 76-year-old man with Parkinson's Disease was pushed to the floor after the con-man barged into his bungalow and took an engraved watch.
Judge Deborah Sherwin told Millis, of Shoreham, Sussex: "You have been preying upon the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.
"It is no wonder these people are now facing having to spend what will be their final years worrying about who comes to their door.
"That's an appalling state of affairs in which to have to live. These are despicable crimes. Many of the items were of sentimental value."
Robert Mochrie, mitigating, said Millis's spectacular fall from grace following his separation was the catalyst to his crime-spree.
"He feels utterly appalled by his behaviour," said Mr Mochrie. "He realises he has caused a significant degree of distress to those unfortunate enough to have answered the knock at their doors."
Millis admitted four burglaries, three charges of burglary with intent to steal, and one of attempted burglary at an earlier hearing.
Drug addict Lee Millis shoved a Parkinson’s sufferer to the ground before taking a watch gifted to him for 25 years of service.
The 57-year-old later broke in to an elderly woman’s home, who had trustingly answered the door, only for Millis to steal a chain given to her by her late son.
His oldest victim was a “frightened” 89-year-old who he knocked over as he barged into her home.
“These are despicable crimes,” said Judge Deborah Sherwin as she jailed him for four years.
”You have been preying on the oldest and most vulnerable members of society.”
Teesside Crown Court heard Millis used a “tool kit” - consisting of a leaflet and bag full of jewellery - claiming he was opening a business.
His first victim, the 89-year-old, was targeted last April when Millis pushed her out the way knocking her off balance.
He priced up her ornaments as she “screamed” for him to leave as he grabbed a pink pendant and £100 emerald ring.
She was left frightened and scared and unable to sleep,” prosecutor Emma Atkinson said.
“She was embarrassed that someone had taken advantage of her.”
That was the first of seven burglaries over the next few months, which often followed a similar pattern.
He would almost always target pensioners, often living in bungalows alone and sometimes in poor health.
The pattern triggered a police probe, which intensified after an appeal in The Gazette last June alerted more victims.
These included an 82-year-old woman who had the chain gifted to her from her late son, a theft she said had caused a “pain and anguish that is unbearable”.
At the time, police said they were looking for two suspects including Millis, who they described as having grey hair and “poorly maintained teeth”.
Eventually he was found, but refused to answer police questions.
It took an ID parade, in which a victim picked him out of the line-up, to act as a breakthrough for the case.
After pleading guilty to seven counts of burglary, his story - described as "tragic" by his solicitor - came to light.
In a matter of months, he had gone from living a happy family life in Brighton to sleeping rough.
Then, at the age of 56, he took the “extraordinarily unusual” step of trying heroin for the first time.
Thursday’s sentencing heard his partner had “vanished”, and had refused to let the antiques worker see their two children.
He was given the chance to move into a pal’s Middlesbrough flat but his drug habit spiralled into a £30-a-day habit.
“He said he had very little choice other than to steal to fund his debt, fund his addiction and allow himself to eat,” said the probation service.
But Judge Sherwin said she had no option but to jail him, adding: “It is clear that over a period of time your life has spiralled out of control.”
“(But) in some cases you have used a degree of violence.”
Art Hostage Comments:
Lee Millis is the illegitimate son of the infamous Tommy (The Sewer Rat) Millis, who also uses the name Thomas Melish.
In court and under oath, Simon Muggleton, former Sussex Police Art & Antiques Unit detective declared
" Sussex Police Art & Antiques Unit had 27, yes twenty seven, Brighton Knocker Boy's signed up as registered Police Informants"
Tommy (The Sewer Rat) Millis/Melish being near the top of the list.