A career burglar preyed on pensioners across the south west, breaking into their homes and tricking them into handing over bank details by posing as utilities staff or a police officer.

Shane Jarvis, 50, who has received 13 years-worth of jail time for burglary in the past two decades, fell back into theft after fearing he was about to be diagnosed with cancer for a second time.

Jailing the thief for seven years and eight months, Judge Jason Taylor QC said: “You are a professional burglar and you deliberately reverted to type when the chips were down in your life.

“What you did was just appalling and you must realise that.”

Swindon Crown Court heard Jarvis had used the same modus operandi he employed 15 years ago, targeting sheltered housing complexes and scamming his way into elderly people’s homes by wearing a hi-vis jacket claiming to be from the water board or electricity board.

Prosecutor Tessa Hingston said: “All the victims were vulnerable, all of them were elderly and they universally describe their shock, in some cases their anger and their distress at the impact this has had on them, having an impact on their sense of safety and their willingness to trust strangers.”

His spree began on December 18, 2019, when he visited the home of an 88-year-old woman at Alfred Brown Court in Swindon. He stole £200 cash. A week later, two days before Christmas, he was in Warminster where he tricked his way into homes on Weymouth Street and Queensway. He took a bank card from the home of a 90-year-old woman with dementia. He managed to get her phone number and later called her, posing as a police officer, and got her pin number. He withdrew £250.

On December 30, he burgled a flat at Archers Court, Salisbury, and entered a flat at Trinity Hospital with intent to steal. The victim of the second break-in was a 96-year-old woman, who gave Jarvis her bank pin – but got the number wrong.

On January 2, 2020, in Westbury he burgled two homes – snatching a wallet from an 86-year-old man who had only recently been discharged from hospital. The offences were not charged, but instead asked by the defence to be taken into consideration.

He was back in Warminster on January 17. He was linked to the burglary at a retirement home block.

Jarvis asked for a burglary in Weston-super-Mare and another in Bridgewater on January 20 to be taken into consideration.

On February 3 he broke into a house on Mulberry Drive, Swindon, and took £100. Later that day, he tricked his way into two houses in Gloucester. Two days later he was in Plymouth, where his two victims were a woman with dementia and an 87-year-old man who chased Jarvis down the street after he realised the thief had stolen photographs of his late wife. He told police the burglar had made him feel a fool.

Police caught up with him on February 6, when they found him with a lock knife. CCTV had picked him up around some of the burgled homes, while his van was also spotted around the towns he targeted.

The court heard Jarvis had more than 100 offences on his record, many of them for dishonesty. In 2003 he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for burglary. Five years later, he was given another six years after admitting more than 50 burglaries committed after his release on licence from Dartmoor prison.

Defending, Emma Handslip said her client had married and had a young son since being released from prison.

He had battled bowel cancer. After another health scare he went back to the hospital, where a colonoscopy revealed more than 50 polyps.

Fearing the cancer would return he left the family home in order to spare his young child from seeing him seriously ill. He lost his job, was unable to apply for benefits and sank back into his former career.

Ms Handslip said Jarvis was remorseful. But that was shot down by Judge Taylor, who bridled at Jarvis: “I struggle to see that that is genuine. People who are genuinely remorseful change.

"They might even say sorry in interview, whereas you totally refused to be cooperative.

“I accept you are regretful but in my judgement that is regret primarily for the situation you find yourself in.”

Jarvis, formerly of Elmore Road, Bristol, pleaded guilty to burglary, fraud by false representation and possession of a bladed article.

Appearing before Swindon Crown Court via video link from HMP Bullingdon, grey-bearded Jarvis appeared to wipe away a tear as he was sentenced. Sending him down, Judge Taylor told Jarvis his victims had been left fearful of strangers. “You simply didn’t care.”