A disgraced nurse manager has escaped a jail sentence for the "abhorrent" theft of a family heirloom watch from a dying man in hospital.

Joseph Miller, 40, of Barnham Lane, Walberton, had pleaded guilty to stealing the £5,000 Submariner Rolex watch from David Davies who was rushed to the accident and emergency department at St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, on August 7 2014.

The 68-year-old died after suffering a heart attack.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard that Miller, a clinical nursing manager, had taken the watch along with his own personal belongings from the emergency room without realising.

He then placed it in his shed "out of sight and out of mind" for several months despite a police investigation launch with appeals to the media for the return of the "treasured" possession.

Miller was arrested after he took the watch to a jeweller's shop to be valued but the police had registered it as stolen and he was later arrested.

He was given a 14-month prison sentence suspended for two years, fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £500 court costs.

Judge Roger Hetherington read from the witness statement of Mr Davies' son, John, to show the extent of the distress caused to the victim's family.

He read: "I cannot begin to say how much stress and horror this caused my family. To have a watch taken from my father as he is dying is as low as it gets."

The judge added: "It was a despicable and mean offence, shocking and disgraceful."

He continued: "This was devious behaviour but you were not in need of money, you were not acting out of financial greed, you were acting in a strange way and out of character, your motivation is unclear.

"The emotional stress you were under at the time may have been a factor but it does not fully explain what you did. It remains, in my mind, a bit of a mystery."

Jonathan Underhill, prosecuting, said that Miller, a married father-of-two, had "breached a high degree of trust".

He added: "This particular watch was very much treasured by Mr Davies and he had made promises about its future to his son."

Sarah Jones, defending, said that Miller had been suffering stress of his own as his own father died of cancer shortly after followed by his mother and then grandmother.

She said: "It was a time of extremely emotional distress for the victim and the victim's family and that Mr Miller understands all the more because of the events that overtook his family."

She added: "He has resigned from a 17-year career in nursing; 20 years with the NHS has come to a shamed ignominious end."

The widow of Mr Davies, Margaret, son John, and other family members were in court to see Miller sentenced.