Jail for gems-haul housekeeper who deserted toddler

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A heartless housekeeper who stole a fortune in jewellery and then fled, allegedly leaving a helpless autistic toddler alone in the premises, was jailed for nine months yesterday.

Annette Lanigan-Ryan, 30, recruited through Lady magazine, had been working for her employer less than 24 hours before she found her safe was full of valuable watches and diamond-encrusted jewellery. She pocketed the pounds 10,000 haul, snatched pounds 600 in cash lying near by and headed for the nearest pawnbrokers. When police caught up with her she was making one of her many visits to a casino, Southwark Crown Court was told.

Mr Recorder Alan Hilton QC told the servant her dishonesty amounted to a "serious breach of trust". "It seems to me you lost very little time in deciding to take the jewellery and the money. "I accept the sight of the jewellery must have tempted you and that you have never been in trouble before ... but this offence is so serious a custodial sentence is inevitable." Lanigan-Ryan admitted one count of theft in July this year, was led from the dock crying.

Her former employer, businessman's wife Mrs Toyin Kamgaing, from Kensington, London, dismissed the woman's apparent distress as "nothing but crocodile tears". "I feel very bad about all this. The most important thing was not the jewellery that was stolen but that my two-and-a-half year old daughter Zara, who is a specialist-needs child, who was left in the house all by herself with the front door open. She is autistic with no concept of danger ... she could have had a terrible accident."

Earlier, Peter Lynch, prosecuting, told the court Lanigan-Ryan began her new duties by cleaning her boss's bedroom where the household safe was located. The barrister said Mrs Kamgaing later left the house leaving her live-in help to carry on with her work.

When she returned an hour later Lanigan-Ryan had disappeared, along with the jewellery and money.

Mr Lynch said officers tracked the deceitful servant to a central London casino. Later, they found she had visited it no less than 21 times that month. Her home in Rowley Way, St Johns Wood, north-west London, was searched and a number of pawn tickets found.