An "expert conman", who scoured the obituaries pages of a local newspaper for burglary victims, was jailed for eight years yesterday.

Michael Booton (57) was said to have used his age, "dapper" appearance and charm to befriend the recently-bereaved to steal from their homes in and around the south Birmingham area.

One grieving widow was robbed of her late husband's wallet just three days after he died.

Booton, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to five burglaries that were committed between October 2003 and October

2004. His oldest victim was aged 89 while others were in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Judge David Matthews, sentencing Booton at Hereford Crown Court, described him as an "expert conman and professional burglar" while his own counsel said the offences were "mean and despicable".

Det Sgt Adam Gough, of West Midlands Police, said they were pleased with the sentence and were now looking into whether he committed similar offences in the Worcester and Redditch areas.

Booton was arrested on October 21 last year at the home of an elderly woman in West Bromwich, following inquiries in pubs in the Harborne area of Birmingham.

He was found with eight, A4 pieces of paper with more than 75 names and addresses and the proceeds of two previous burglaries.

The handwritten names and addresses were later found to have been culled from the personal notices of the Evening Mail newspaper.

"He would find out where they lived, cold-called them saying he knew their husband and engaged them in conversation. While they were distracted, he would steal belongings such as purses, wallets and credit cards."

He added: "There wasn't a great amount of cash in it but it was of sentimental value. The body wasn't cold."

Mr Gough described Booton as "cold and calculating" and said his actions had had a devastating effect on his victims, many of whom had been vulnerable and confused at the time.

Booton, whom Mr Gough said had a history of similar offences dating back 15 years, is thought to have committed the offences to fuel a drink problem.