A mother who targeted retailers in her latest thieving spree is not safe to be in any shops, a judge said on Friday.
Deirdre Anne McKeown was told she is only being spared jail at this stage because no-one else is available to look after her teenage son.
Deferring sentencing on the 51-year-old, District Judge Fiona Bagnall said: “The only reason I would hesitate on immediate custody is because of the needs of this child.”
McKeown, of Asbourne Manor in Ballymena, Co Antrim, stole goods from stores at the Abbey Centre just outside Belfast in July.
She was arrested after taking security tags off two electric toothbrushes worth £70 and leaving Superdrug without paying.
Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard previously how McKeown initially gave a false name and date of birth.
A magnet found on her had been used to remove labels from the items.
McKeown also had in her possession two dresses, valued at £120, stolen from a Monsoon store earlier that day, along with razors and two sandwiches.
Staff at a nearby Poundland shop confirmed they had checked CCTV footage and viewed the food being taken.
During interviews McKeown said she didn’t know why she had taken the items, and initially denied going equipped for theft.
She claimed to have found the magnet in her garden, put it in her bag and forgot it was there.
Convicted of three counts of theft, going equipped for theft and obstructing police, sentencing was originally put on hold so that arrangements could be made for her son.
She was warned at that stage she faced time behind bars.
In court today, however, defence counsel confirmed no-one is currently in a position to look after the child.
It was also disclosed that McKeown has 26 previous convictions for theft, another six for fraud offences, and was barred from entering retail outlets.
Mrs Bagnall responded: “She is not safe in any shopping premises, to be frank.”
Despite questioning defence submissions that the latest case has been a “wake-up call” for McKeown, the judge acknowledged the potential implications for her son.
Releasing the defendant on bail, Mrs Bagnall said: “I’m going to defer this for six months, but she should be under no illusion if there’s any further offending she is going into immediate custody, whatever the impact is.
“We are going to have to meet this head-on.”