PROLIFIC thief Melissa Sloanes has been spared jail after clocking up her 142nd conviction – despite being warned by a judge that she was on her last chance.
The 31-year-old was warned by a judge last December that if she stole again she would be “going to prison”.
Four months later, on April 8, the 31-year-old was caught stealing a pink purse worth £9.99 from T.K Max in Sunderland while carrying a wrap of heroin.
Yesterday, at Newcastle Crown Court Sloanes, of no fixed address, faced two suspended sentences, totalling more than a year behind bars, being activated.
Prosecutor Claire Anderson told the court: “The crown say she is obviously a prolific offender, she disregards opportunities for suspended sentences and court orders.
“During police interview she admitted the offences and accepted she entered the store and removed the labels from the purse.
“She admitted it was heroin she was carrying and that she knew it was so, it was for her own use and she knew possession of it was illegal.”
Judge Jeremy Freedman agreed to give her another chance and deferred sentence for six months to let her prove she can keep out of trouble.
Judge Freedman told Sloanes, who had pleaded guilty to theft and heroin possession: “You could not complain if I activated the prison sentences but it seems to me what you need is long term rehabilitation.
“You tell me this was an isolated lapse.
“I’m afraid this is your last chance, if you don’t do what you promise to do, you know what will happen.”
The judge said Sloanes will not go to jail when she is back at court in November if she keeps out of trouble and continues to do well on a drug treatment programme she is on.
The court heard Sloanes’ previous convictions include 55 offences of theft, 46 involving police and courts and ten of drugs.
Paul Cross, defending, said: “There are green shoots of recovery.”
Sloanes’ case comes just weeks after the Echo revealed how more suspended prison sentences were handed down in the Northumbria area than anywhere else in the country.
According to a report from the Centre for Crime Prevention, more than four in 10 prison sentences handed down by courts in the area were suspended in 2012.
The area tops the league for having the highest share of criminals who are sentenced to jail, only to have their sentences suspended.
Report author, Peter Cuthbertson claimed the statistics reveal “a failure of public protection”.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “Since 2010 criminals are more likely to go to prison – and for longer.
“In the 12 months to June 2013 almost 48,000 offenders didn’t ‘walk free’ but went straight to prison - four times as many as got a suspended sentence.
“It is right that the most serious offenders spend longer behind bars, which is why we are overhauling sentencing and making sure judges have tough sentencing options available to them.
“But sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent judiciary based on the full facts of each case.”