Jail for brazen intruder who burgled homes of vulnerable people across Cumbria

Carlisle Crown Court heard that 57-year-old John Donakey travelled from his home 100 miles away to commit a string of crimes several years apart. Credit: Cumbria Police

A brazen burglar who broke into a vulnerable pensioner’s Cumbria home as she slept — while her niece watched live CCTV footage of the shocking crime from her own house in Cheshire — has been jailed for four years.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that 57-year-old John Donakey used the same cunning method as he travelled from his home 100 miles away to commit a string of crimes several years apart.

Prosecutor Kim Whittlestone said: "He has access to a car and is equipped with items such as disposable gloves, socks and screwdrivers; and carries, in the latter set of offences, a Marks & Spencer picnic bag. 

"He targets areas and properties where there are particularly vulnerable and elderly occupants.

“He is bold enough to revisit the same streets and the same properties over a course of days, clearly seeing some of his victims as easy targets."

Donakey — a previously convicted burglar whose first break-in occurred back in 1978 aged just 13 — was disturbed by occupants after sneaking into two Kendal homes a week apart in July 2018.

Then on 14 October, 2020, he entered a house in Folly Lane, Penrith, while an elderly occupant’s son was cooking in the kitchen.

He was using a knife to prepare food, heard a noise and found Donakey in a bedroom.

“There was a struggle with the owner and he cut his hand on the knife. The defendant left the property. The police were called and the defendant subsequently identified by his DNA,” said Miss Whittlestone.

Then came more Penrith offences in late June 2022.

Carrying the M&S bag, Donakey entered the Croft Avenue address of a frail elderly man but was challenged and left. Three days later he stole binoculars from a property on Maple Drive.

In between times, Donakey entered other homes at Maple Drive and Clifford Road. At one address, a very elderly dementia sufferer was asleep in an armchair.

Her niece was watching from Cheshire on CCTV as Donakey rifled through drawers, and raised the alarm.

“She was so concerned she called police. They arrived. Thankfully the owner had not been disturbed,” said the prosecutor.

At the other property, Donakey was described as "smiling and confident" while engaging a vulnerable woman recovering from spinal surgery in conversation after entering uninvited.

Police spotted Donakey, of Bexhill Gardens, St Helens, on a host of Ring doorbell CCTV recordings they viewed in the aftermath as part of their investigation.

Loot, including binoculars and jewellery and an RAF medal whose owner remains unknown, was found in his car.

Donakey admitted nine burglary charges and one count of going equipped for burglary.

In statements, victims described feeling the profound impact of his crimes, of being left anxious and "constantly on edge".

One called Donakey an "awful man". The niece who watched Donakey carry out the crime said her aunt had been left feeling, in her words, "very shaky and wibbly-wobbly".

"It has really knocked my confidence," her aunt had stated. "I’m really worried and scared it might happen again. I feel I can’t trust anyone anymore."

Jailing Donakey, Judge Simon Medland KC said he had shown a "casual confidence" while going about his offending.

"These were mean offences, cruel offences and greedy offences, aggravated by the vulnerability of your victims who you must have targeted in order to take advantage of that," said the judge.