A CRUEL man betrayed the friendship of his elderly neighbour - by stealing his dead wife's wedding ring and pawning it off for booze.

Mark Dunford, 50, had been a close friend of his neighbour Ronald Gregg for many years, and would regularly help the elderly man with odd jobs around his house after his wife passed away.

But in November last year, Mr Gregg noticed his late wife's wedding ring was missing from where he kept it on top of the box containing her ashes.

Dunford eventually confessed to his neighbour he had taken the ring and sold it, but promised he could get it back - and Mr Gregg gave him £80 to do so.

However, when the pawn shop said they had already melted the ring down, Dunford never returned the £80 his neighbour had given to him.

A "remorseful" Dunford, of Yeovil, Somerset, pleaded guilty at Somerset Magistrates' Court to stealing a gold wedding ring belonging to Ronald Gregg on November 12, 2019.

Magistrates sentenced him to a 12-month community order with a 10-day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement, and an order to attend the Thinking Skills programme.

The court heard that the victim's wife passed away in 2016 and he kept her ashes in a wooden box on a shelf in the lounge with a ring box on top containing the gold wedding ring, which had great sentimental value.

Dunford would regularly go to Mr Gregg's address and do jobs for him.

But on November 12 the victim noticed that the ring was missing from the box, and initially accused members of his family while the defendant was present.

However, when he was confronted by the victim, Dunford eventually admitted that he had taken the ring and sold it.

A pre-sentence report, prepared by the Probation Service, said the defendant stated he could buy the ring back, so the victim gave him £80 to do this.

But when he went back to the shop he had pawned it to, they said it had already been sold on for scrap metal.

Dunford wrote a letter to his neighbour apologising for his actions and blamed it on the medication he was taking.

He later told police that his motivation for the theft was to buy alcohol with the money and he never returned the £80 he had borrowed from Mr Gregg.

Prosecutor Emma Lenanton told magistrates the harm caused by the offence was elevated due to the sentimental value of the ring and said the case had involved a significant "breach of trust".

In a victim impact statement read to the court, Mr Gregg said that he initially accused members of his own family of the theft.

And he said that Dunford also indicated that he thought he would be able to get the ring back and needed £80.

Miss Lenaton added: "He then claimed he needed £20 to get a train to Taunton.

"But enquiries by the police led to the shop that was in Yeovil and Mr Gregg said he never got the £100 back.

"He said he feels let down by the defendant and feel he has taken advantage of him and his good nature.

"He said he wanted his wife's ring back and the money he got off him and felt embarrassed by what had happened," the prosecutor added.

Defending solicitor Neil Priest said Dunford realised this was not a nice offence but was entirely remorseful afterwards and returned to his neighbour's house with a letter of apology.

"He is obviously suffering with his own difficulties with regard to his mental health and believed that at the time of the offence this had a significant impact on the decision he made," he said.

"He is now disgusted with himself as the victim was a friend and companion for around five years and he had previously assisted Mr Gregg in various ways doing errands and household chores for him etc."

He said that compensation for the offence was a live issue but added that Dunford relied on benefits and his finances were "meagre."

Chair of the magistrates Beverley Higgs said: "This was a horrible and shameful betrayal of trust of a friend.

"[It] caused him extreme distress where he even doubted the trust he had in his own family before you told him you had stolen the ring.

"You must have known that the wedding ring on his wife's ashes was there for a reason but still you took the decision that your need for alcohol was more important and that is disgusting," she added.

Magistrates did not impose a fine but ordered the defendant to pay Mr Gregg £100 compensation for his betrayal of trust in asking for the £80, and a further £250 for the theft of the ring.

No costs or victim surcharge were requested.