A serial thief who targeted elderly victims in supermarkets across Bromley town centre, Petts Wood and Orpington has been jailed for four years.

John Gwillim-Jones, aged 60, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to 39 theft offences in Bromley and the home counties at Reading Crown Court on Tuesday (March 11).

Gwillim-Jones would remove bags left in shopping trolleys by his victims, before walking off with them when his victims were distracted.

He used the rail network to travel around the country, often targeted stores near mainline stations and committed the offences in midweek afternoons.

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The Farnborough and Crofton Safer Neighbourhood Team identified a pattern to the offending and identified Gwillim-Jones through CCTV at the scene of the offences.

The trial judge said when imposing the prison sentence that Gwillim-Jones is a professional rather than opportunist, and he preyed on the vulnerable and elderly.

He had 146 previous convictions.

Detective Sergeant Jim Herron, from Bromley police, said "Gwillim-Jones was totally non-descript.

"He was 60 years old and to all intents and purposes looked like a grandfather out shopping, easily blending into the store environment.

"He moved about unnoticed as is common with handbag thieves, looking like a normal shopper and stealing with impunity."

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DS Herron added: "Offences such as these rely on shoppers leaving their bags in trolleys while shopping and then becoming distracted, leaving them at the mercy of characters like Gwillim-Jones.

"In a lot of the offences, house keys, mobile phones and treasured personal items were stolen, causing the victim a considerable amount of inconvenience.

"I would ask shoppers to please take care of your bags when out in public. Those responsible prey on opportunity. 

"Keep your bags close and limit their opportunities."