Northern Ireland

Strabane £10 jeans theft: prison sentence overturned

A 27-year-old Strabane woman has won her appeal against a prison sentence for stealing jeans worth £10.

Alison Hewitt, a single parent from Patterson Park, was sent to jail for three months.

The Court of Appeal on Friday ruled the original three months prison sentence was "manifestly excessive" and ordered her to serve 100 hours community service instead.

Following her successful challenge Hewitt said, "I'm just glad it's over."

Hewitt was convicted by a jury at Londonderry Crown Court of stealing the jeans from a small clothes shop in the city in August 2009.

A four-day Crown Court trial heard that she took three pairs into a changing room, along with her young daughter in a pram, but only returned two.

The severity of the punishment handed down to a first-time offender provoked widespread public shock.

Her lawyers argued in the Court of Appeal on Friday that it went beyond a reasonable response to the offence of shoplifting.

Barrister Martin McCann said: "The courts must behave in a humane way.

"This is a civilised society and it only becomes less civilised for the courts not to demonstrate the sort of humanity I would suggest this case obviously deserves."

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said those who target shopkeepers trying to run businesses in difficult times must realise they risk going to jail.

Sleeping child

Prosecuting counsel argued that Ms Hewitt's use of her sleeping child to take the buggy into the changing room was an aggravating factor.

Judges rejected that submission but took more notice of the status of the shop targeted.

Sir Declan said: "This is the sort of independent trader which the law is there to protect."

He also agreed with the the trial judge's description of Hewitt's actions as being calculated, premeditated and deliberate.

But Sir Declan took note of her age, lack of any previous convictions, and her parental responsibilities.

He said these factors may not have been as obvious and developed before the trial judge as they were on appeal.

"We have concluded in this difficult case, having regard to the matters now before us, this case just falls on the side of sentencing which takes it outside or below the custody threshold," he said.

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