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Family friend in court after stealing treasured heirloom

PUBLISHED: 18:30 07 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:06 01 July 2010

Lesley Freeman with her empty box after her unique 80-year-old gold necklace, with diamonds, sapphires and pearls was stolen

Lesley Freeman with her empty box after her unique 80-year-old gold necklace, with diamonds, sapphires and pearls was stolen

Amy Gray

A Norwich family say they are 'devastated' and no longer want to live in their own home after a friend betrayed their trust and stole a treasured family heirloom.

A Norwich family say they are “devastated” and no longer want to live in their own home after a friend betrayed their trust and stole a treasured family heirloom.

Tommasio Melidoni, of Colindeep Lane, Sprowston, was given a suspended prison sentence at Norwich Crown Court on Friday after he admitted three counts of theft and one of fraud.

One of the items he stole was an antique necklace belonging to mother-of-five Lesley Freeman who had welcomed Melidoni into her home in Three Score, Bowthorpe, after he befriended her teenage son.

Though the necklace is priceless to the family, they believe it could be worth up to £15,000.

Melidoni, 33, moved in with the Freemans in December 2009. They did not know he was already on bail for theft and fraud.

Melidoni, unemployed, was even asked to be godfather to Mrs Freeman's granddaughter, Syeira.

It was at the party after the christening in January that he saw Mrs Freeman, 49, wearing her beloved gold and diamond necklace, commissioned by her late father to celebrate her late mother's 18th birthday.

Melidoni took it and sold it for £500 and despite visiting all the jewellers in Norwich and calling auction houses across the world, the Freemans have yet to find it.

“I was devastated. That necklace was for Syeira,” said Mrs Freeman, a nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, told the Evening News away from the court.

“I have been off work for stress. We are never going to get over it. We've lost everything.

“How could he sell that necklace for £500?”

Mrs Freeman was given the 22ct necklace with diamonds, sapphires and pearls by her mother after the birth of her first daughter. She realised the necklace, and other items of jewellery, were missing on February 19 this year.

Speaking about her home, she said: “I don't want to live there anymore.”

Her husband Norman Freeman, a car valeter, said Melidoni moved in after telling them he had split up with his girlfriend and they all “felt comfortable with him”.

He said he felt “sick” that Melidoni had avoided prison.

“To see him get a suspended sentence like that is ridiculous,” said Mr Freeman, 52.

“He's not sorry for it at all. He won't say sorry.”

Sentencing Melidoni on Friday, Recorder Malcolm Davis-White QC said he was “extremely close” to giving him a custodial sentence.

He said: “The thefts are extremely nasty, in particular the last offence stealing from people that you were so close to they wanted you to be godparent to their granddaughter. That speaks for itself.

“In each case you breached a position of trust and betrayed friendships.

“After very careful deliberation I have decided to give you one chance more. I hope you will take serious steps to make some recompense in this case.”

Michael Clare, in mitigation, said Melidoni provided information to help police trace the necklace, “turned himself around” and received an offer of employment in outdoor pursuits.

“He is intensely ashamed and embarrassed, not only for himself but for those he feels he has let down,” said Mr Clare.

“He wants nothing more than to put this behind him and make recompense as best he can.”

Melidoni pleaded guilty to stealing £1,000 from a safe at the Falcon pub in Cromer Road, Norwich, in March 2009. He previously worked there and had a key for the pub and safe.

He admitted stealing a camera, Ipod and other electrical items from a girlfriend's friend in January 2008, and also pleaded guilty to fraud after he sold the stolen camera, claiming it was his.

Rachel Cushing, prosecuting, said Mrs Freeman was not able to claim insurance as Meldoni had been given a house key.

“The necklace had huge sentimental value. It was a family heirloom due to be passed on to her granddaughter. Therefore this has affected the whole family,” she said.

Melidoni was sentenced to nine months for the thefts from the Freemans, and a further eight months for the other thefts and fraud, to run concurrently and suspended for 18 months.

During this supervision period he is required to carry out 300 hours' unpaid work.

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