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James Greenwood (pictured), 43, broke into a house in Burnley, Lancashire, and took a mahogany casket containing the remains of former Royal Navy serviceman John Clarkson along with other items.


A burglar who stole the ashes of a 91-year-old World War Two veteran and threw them in a bin has been jailed.

James Greenwood, 43, broke into a house in Burnley, Lancashire, and took a mahogany casket containing the remains of former Royal Navy serviceman John Clarkson.

When the thief realised what he’d done, he threw the entire casket in his wheelie bin. But the next day, refuse collectors took it away – and Mr Clarkson’s remains were taken to a landfill site.

Mr Clarkson’s remains are still missing despite a two-day search of the site by council staff.

Today, Greenwood, from Burnley, Lancashire, was behind bars starting a 20-month jail sentence after he admitted burglary.

In the run-up to his sentencing, he wrote a letter of apology to his granddaughter Claire Wynn, 37, offering to let her relatives ‘give him a good beating’ when he was released from custody.

But after the case, mother-of-two Mrs Wynn, whose house he broke into, said: ‘No court in the country would send him to prison for as long as he deserves – because what he did to my family was unforgivable.


‘It was a disgusting crime and I am disgusted with him. For him to offer amends by taking a beating was the final insult. We don’t want to hear from him at all.

‘It has been an awful time for us. The sentencing was on Armistice Day, which is also my mother’s birthday. It was so upsetting for us. 

‘When he was arrested they found all of the items he had stolen at his home. He had thrown the ashes and the casket they were in. He’d put them in the wheelie bin.

‘They arrested him on a Wednesday but the bins are collected every Tuesday, which means they were too late by just a day.

‘We called the staff at the landfill site who were amazing and spent two days searching through the waste to find it, but it was no use.’

She added: ‘My grandad loved life and he would be going mad at this man. These people need to get off their backsides and get a job instead of robbing people’s homes like this.

‘It is very upsetting to be burgled anyway but to have something that precious and meaningful stolen like a loved one’s ashes is disgusting and heartbreaking.

‘The other things which were stolen can be replaced but not my grandad’s ashes. I have felt quite sick with it all and I was actually physically sick when I was told about in on holiday, I even tried to get an earlier flight home but couldn’t.

‘We just want to know where my grandfather’s ashes are. It is the unknowing which is worse because we don’t know where he is. When my grandfather was in my house we knew he was there and there was part of him left and still with us.

‘People deal with grief in different ways and it was comforting to have him with us. I didn’t really have any plans to scatter him that’s why I bought a special box.

‘My little girl Lily-Rose, four, is heartbroken, but she keeps saying: “it’s okay mummy he is in the sky now.”‘

Widower Mr Clarkson, a retired labourer, died two days after his 91st birthday in January.

His ashes were kept inside the specially made wooden casket which has an inscribed plaque on it giving his name age and date of death plus a family photograph.

Police said the burglars broke in through a kitchen window at the back of the house between 6pm on Thursday, October 3 and 6 on Friday, October 4.

As well as the ashes they stole an iPhone 4, Xbox, stereo system, DVD player, a tablet computer and a gold masonic steward’s medal, which belonged to another elderly relative.

A signed Burnley FC ball and a watch belonging to Mrs Wynn’s late grandmother had also been taken.

Mrs Wynn was away on a ten day break in Turkey when another relative called her at her hotel to tell her of the raid.

She added: ‘We were due to come home when I got a call from my mum telling me that we been broken into.

‘My friend had been checking on my cats so the house was technically not empty – we think that someone was obviously watching and has seen that we have gone away.

‘I was absolutely gutted. We are really close family and it was awful when my grandad died in January this year because we have nursed him as he was quite frail towards the end and was living in sheltered accommodation.

‘He couldn’t see very well either and he had talking watches which we ended up putting in the casket after he died.

‘Having the ashes is in my house made me feel like he was still with me and I used to talk to him and every hour the watch would talk -it was like he was still here.

‘It is like we are in mourning for our grandfather for a second time, it feels like I have lost him again. ‘I lost him once in January and I was just getting back to normality and now I am grieving again.’

Accrington-born Mr Clarkson joined the Navy despite being unable to swim and spent a year serving in Australia. It is believed he was part of the landing crew which helped aircraft land on ships.

Burnley Crown Court was told Greenwood was caught after appeals for information. Police searched his home and no property from the burglary was found – but when officers asked about the ashes, he confessed to disposing of them.

He said he had been asked to take part in the raid by a friend who knew the family was on holiday. Philip Holden, defending, said his client was ‘genuinely remorseful’ and had a ‘lifelong’ addiction to hard drugs.

Greenwood was banned from contacting the family for five years under the terms of a restraining order.

PC Nicola Heap, of Lancashire Police, said: ‘This must be heart-breaking for the family. Finding out you have been burgled is bad enough, but to have something of this sentimental value taken makes it so much worse.’

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