A WOMAN whose knickers were repeatedly stolen from her tumble dryer has said she is relieved the offender has been caught.
Nicholas Austin was convicted of five counts of burglary last week after being caught by police in a stakeout at the woman’s home in Ipsden.
He had taken about 30 pairs of pants from the tumble dryer in her garden shed between May and August.
The 33-year-old victim, who did not want to be named, said she felt a “huge amount of relief”.
She said: “It was very creepy and very disturbing having it happen on a regular basis while not knowing who it was and why they were doing it.
“It probably seems like a really small crime, especially for men, but for the person on the receiving end it’s quite frightening to have someone charging round your property
“It does make you feel like you have to run into your house at night and lock your doors — you do get a bit paranoid.”
The woman had thought there was a problem with her tumble dryer but became concerned after underwear started to go missing on a regular basis.
She said: “At first I thought I was just being silly because you can lose the odd item here and there but then I realised that something was definitely happening.
“I bought a little bag to keep track of them but not before I had literally had my head in the drum of the tumble dryer trying to find them. He went for stuff which was colourful or patterned, anything which was a little bit exciting.
“It got to the point where I got fed up putting my stuff out so I borrowed pants from members of my family to use as a decoy.”
She contacted the police in May after nine pairs of knickers from one load of washing went missing.
Police installed security cameras but although Austin was caught on camera, he kept his hood up and was unable to be identified.
The footage showed him frequently visiting the woman’s home and even wandering around her garden. On one occasion, he moved security lights so he would not be visible during his visits.
The victim said that she became increasingly concerned at the regularity of his visits.
“It got to the point where it was changing the way I went about my everyday life,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t come home after dark, I couldn’t walk the dog on my own and I was paranoid somebody could be watching what I was doing.”
In September, by which time Austin was visiting twice a week, police officers spent four nights staking out the shed from the house. They saw him enter the shed through a hole in the wooden panelling.
Austin was arrested and admitted stealing the underwear, telling officers that he had heard voices telling him to do it. He also admitted stealing knickers from the washing lines of three other women.
He was given a restraining order after pleading guilty at Oxford Magistrates’ Court. He was also given a two-month curfew that means he must stay at home between 10pm and 5am.
Austin was ordered to pay £60 which will be distributed between the other three victims as well as £85 in costs and a £60 victim surcharge.
His solicitor said the thefts had been a cry for help and Austin was now going to see a psychiatrist.
The victim said: “To certain extent you do have to feel a little bit sorry for him. I hope he sorts himself out and stops doing what he is doing because it is obviously not a normal thing to do.”
She has donated her £200 compensation to the police and said: “They put an awful lot of effort into catching him, including putting up security cameras.
“I think it would be quite useful to have funding for more cameras to help other people in my situation.”
She added: “It’s probably the most excitement Ipsden has seen for 100 years. It’s so freaky, it’s like something out of Midsomer Murders, but I just want to forget that it ever happened.”