A decorator who stole three watches worth more than £30,000 from the Duke of Westminster’s home has been spared jail “by the skin of his teeth”.
Matthew Turner, 24, was given a 20-month sentence, suspended for two years, at Chester Crown Court after admitting the burglary of three watches taken from Hugh Grosvenor’s bedroom while he was carrying out renovation work at Eaton Hall, on the outskirts of Chester, in August 2022.
The court heard Turner, who was addicted to cocaine at the time, took a Cartier London Tank JC watch, bought for £18,000, a Panerai Luminor Marina watch, worth £7,000, and a Breitling watch, bought for the duke for his 21st birthday by his late father and his mother and worth about £7,000.
The burglary was only revealed when Harry Fane, who had sold the Cartier watch to the duke, spotted it for sale on an auction site in November that year in what was described in court as an “astonishing coincidence”.
The other two watches have never been recovered, the court heard.
In a statement read to the court, the duke said: “They are of huge sentimental value, beyond their financial worth.”
He added: “My bedroom is a private, extremely personal space within my home, I feel very uncomfortable knowing someone who is trusted to do a job has entered my room and stolen my personal possessions.”
Sentencing, Honorary Recorder of Chester Judge Steven Everett told Turner: “You have escaped prison by the skin of your teeth.”
He said it was clear Turner had declined to tell police where the other two watches were.
The judge said: “You made that decision not to, suggesting at least one of the watches went to your drug dealer.”
At the time of the offence, Turner was employed by a firm which had worked on the duke’s estate for more than 50 years and were “well and truly trusted” by the family, the court heard.
The Duke of Westminster, one of the UK’s richest men, is godfather to Prince George.
The 32-year-old took over his family’s billion-pound fortune and estate when his father Gerald died in 2016.
Myles Wilson, defending, said Turner had been spending hundreds of pounds on cocaine.
He said: “It’s a typical scenario where his debts increase, his dealers become more desperate, he becomes more desperate and he’s committed crime and really self-destructed.”
Peter Hussey, prosecuting, said Turner had admitted a separate offence of theft after stealing £60 from colleague Callum Parry’s wallet while working at Top Gear Tyres in Ellesmere Port in December 2022.
Judge Everett said although the financial backgrounds of both victims were “entirely different” the end result was the same.
Turner, who was supported in court by his father and stepmother, nodded in the dock when he was told he must complete 200 hours of unpaid work and 30 days of rehabilitation activity.
The judge ordered he pay £500 compensation to Mr Parry but said no order he could make could “possibly compensate” for the loss to the duke.