Scarborough artist left "physically sick" after burglar stole his late daughter's treasures

Alan Stuttle with his painting of the thief who broke into his property . pic Richard Ponter 171217
Alan Stuttle with his painting of the thief who broke into his property . pic Richard Ponter 171217

A despicable thief who stole antiques and precious family items from a celebrated Scarborough artist has been told to expect a long spell behind bars.

Mihai Dobrea, 45, burgled Alan Stuttle’s home stealing two ornamental pistols, jewellery, watches and cash, as well as treasured gifts given to him by his late daughter Caroline Ann Stuttle, who was just 19 years of age when she was murdered while backpacking in Australia in 2002.

Treasured items given to Alan by his late daughter Caroline (pictured) were among those stolen.

Treasured items given to Alan by his late daughter Caroline (pictured) were among those stolen.

One of the precious watches was later found at Dobrea’s home when police swooped, York Crown Court heard.

The shameless thief even had the audacity to take pictures of himself posing with the pistols which he had apparently saved on his phone.

Dobrea, of Elders Street, was hauled in for questioning and initially admitted the burglary, which was part of a five-week crime spree in which hetargeted at least nine homes in the town.

But Crown prosecutor Laura Addy said that when Dobrea realised the significance of stealing from the artist’s home, and the tragic family background, he changed his tune and denied the burglary.

Dobrea, a Romanian national with a chequered past, tried to wriggle his way out and gave police a highly-dubious story about not realising which properties he had, and had not, burgled, because his geography of the town wasn’t up to scratch.

He was charged with 14 counts of burglary and one of possessing a knife in a public place between February 20 and March 29.

It’s understood he was caught with the knife on the later date.

The properties he was accused of burgling included addresses in Station Road, Stepney Road, Stepney Grove, Northstead Manor Drive, Wheatcroft Avenue, Edge Dell, Peasholm Drive, Manor Road and Hillcrest Avenue.

Dobrea initially appeared at York Crown Court earlier in May when he admitted nine counts of burglary and the knife charge. He denied five other burglary allegations in the same residential areas.

Barrister Ms Addy said the Crown could accept all the not-guilty pleas except the burglary at Mr Stuttle’s home because of the overwhelming evidence against Dobrea and the “significant effect” it had had on the well-known artist.

“Some of the (items) stolen were gifts given to (the victim) by his daughter, who was murdered as a backpacker in Australia in 2002,” she

added.

A trial date in August had been scheduled, but an intermediary hearing was held on Friday in the hope of finding a resolution before a jury was sworn in.

Dobrea, in a bullish and defiant mood after sacking his legal team, appeared in the dock alongside a Romanian interpreter, claiming he could fight his case without legal representation.

After much toing and froing – during which Dobrea frequently talked over his interpreter – he finally admitted the burglary at Mr Stuttle’s home after the clerk read out the charge for a second time.

Mr Stubbs said he would adjourn sentence until July 6 to allow Dobrea to find new legal representation.

He warned the defendant: “Prepare yourself for a long prison sentence.”

Dobrea was remanded in custody until the sentence date, when the court will hear of the effect the thefts had had on Mr Stuttle, whose daughter Caroline, a prospective university student, was killed in April 2002 while on a summer backpacking break in Australia with her friend Sarah Holiday.

The highly-intelligent teenager, described as a “lovely, beautiful girl”, was walking back to a caravan site in the town of Bundaberg, Queensland, when she was thrown from a 65ft road bridge during a suspected mugging.

Her heartbroken father, an award-winning artist who has won international plaudits for his oil and watercolour paintings, set up a charity and bursary scheme in his daughter’s memory, the proceeds from which help nurture the talents of promising young artists through art trips abroad or the purchase of materials.

On hearing that Dobrea had been convicted, Alan Stuttle, 78, said: “I feel great relief – he’s upset a lot of people. I’m pushing 80 and he burgled a lady’s house who is older than me.

“He’s caused a lot of distress.”

Mr Stuttle said that when he realised that items given to him by his late daughter Caroline had been stolen he felt “physically sick”.

He added: “They were things like rings and nick-nacks – things you can’t replace.

“He also took my dad’s watch with his name on the back, which he received for 50 years of service on the railways.

“At least I have the memories.”

Mr Stuttle says he has no animosity towards Dobrea, adding: “I hope he learns from this.

“I hate to see people wasting their lives.”

He thanked the police for their help and has made a plea to the public to lock their upstairs windows, as this is how the burglar entered his property.

Mr Stuttle has now painted an impression of how the burglary scene might have looked, which he says has been a “cathartic process”.