‘Freegan’ wife sold neighbour’s vacuum to buy drugs - and has 28 previous convictions for 60 crimes

IN COURT ... Kerry Barker and husband Paul, whose 'freegan' lifestyle hit the headlines after they were charged with stealing out-of-date food.
IN COURT ... Kerry Barker and husband Paul, whose 'freegan' lifestyle hit the headlines after they were charged with stealing out-of-date food.
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THE other half of the so-called ‘freegan’ couple has appeared in court for a string of offences – including stealing from a neighbour.

Kerry Barker, 29, appeared before Sunderland magistrates today to be sentenced for her part in stealing out-of-date waste food from Tesco along with her husband Paul.

We have given you a chance today, but it is your life.

Chairman of the bench Marian Oliver

As reported in Tuesday’s Echo, Mr Barker was given an absolute discharge after a district judge ruled that his lack of finances meant no other penalty was open to him.

The couple had said all their benefits were stopped last year and they had been led to believe they would be without payment for a whole year.

However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has since told the Echo that Barker’s benefits were sanctioned for a month in December, due to missed appointments, and the pair are now getting their full entitlement.

Mrs Barker, of Caroline Street, Hetton, pleaded guilty to theft from the back of the Tesco Express store in the town on February 6, in which she and her husband stole a pallet of discarded food.

Prosecutor Lee Poppett said the couple had raised suspicion after being seen on a Sunderland City Council CCTV camera in the secure compound behind the store at midnight.

They were in the process of removing a pallet of food stuffs from the compound when they were intercepted by police.

Mr Poppett said: “They were interviewed under caution, telling police they had no benefits at all and were partaking in what is known as freeganism – the practice of reclaiming waste food.”

He said Tesco provided a statement to support the prosecution, confirming that while the food was of no value to the company, no-one had permission to trespass on the premises and remove it, in particular due to health and safety reasons.

She was given an absolute discharge by the court for the theft - the same sentence as her husband.

Mum-of-two Mrs Barker, whose children currently live with grandparents in Cumbria, also admitted theft in connection with a £115 vacuum cleaner destined to be delivered to a neighbour on April 15.

She had signed for the parcel, but instead of handing it over, she sold it for £70, telling police she had done it to buy drugs.

The victim said in a statement: “I’m indignant that a neighbour would do this to me. I am annoyed that a delivery company would leave a parcel with Kerry that was meant for me. I especially said it was only to be delivered to me.”

Two offences of shoplifting, dating back to October 29 were also dealt with. These related to hair dye taken from Home Bargains, and bedding stolen from Poundstretcher, both in Sunderland city centre. The sentence had been deferred by a judge for six months on condition she stayed out of trouble.

She also admitted breaching a two-year suspended prison sentence, imposed by Newcastle Crown Court on October 16, for an offence of wounding.

The court heard that Mrs Barker has 28 previous convictions for 60 offences.

Philippa Wylie, defending, said Mrs Barker had led an ordinary working life for years after leaving school at 16. However, she had become depressed after having a miscarriage.

Her life “snow-balled” out of control and she turned to heroin and alcohol, Miss Wylie said. In December her benefits were sanctioned.

“On January 6 together with her husband the pair of them found themselves in a situation where they were desperate for food and have practiced this freeganism, as has been referred to,” Miss Wylie added.

She said Barker had told police she had sold the vacuum cleaner to buy drugs, when in fact she wanted to buy food, because she was too embarrassed to admit that she was starving.

Barker was also given a conditional discharge for 18 months for the other thefts. Magistrates extended the drug rehabilitation requirement attached to the suspended sentence order to 12 months and ordered her to pay £100 in compensation for the vacuum cleaner. She was told to pay a £180 criminal court charge, but prosecution costs were waived.

Chairman of the bench Marian Oliver said: “We have given you a chance today, but it is your life.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Mrs Barker is currently in receipt of benefits.

“We continue to spend around £94bn a year on working-age benefits, so we have a strong safety net in place.”