Thieves followed Sunderland pensioner home to take her heating money and Christmas cash

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A CRUEL thief stole a pensioner’s winter fuel allowance and Christmas cash after following her home from the shops.

Michael Stead, 32, had watched the 79-year-old, who suffers from arthritis, struggle with her purse as she paid for her shopping in Blandford Street, Sunderland, last November.

Newcastle Crown Court heard Stead and his female accomplice, who has since gone on the run, befriended the woman at a bus stop and sat behind her during her journey.

The pair then got off at the same stop and Stead used the pretence of helping the woman get safely home to rummage through her shopping trolley, which she used to help her walk. It was only once the woman got settled inside her home, where she lived alone, she realised her purse was gone.

The court heard the purse contained a total of £295 made up of the pensioner’s savings, which she planned to use for presents, and her winter fuel allowance.

The victim told police: “I am very, very upset about the whole incident and I am frightened.” The court heard precious pictures of her grandchildren were also taken.

Detectives tracked down Stead after his fingerprints were found on the plastic bags he had carried while pretending to help.

Stead, of Byron Street, Southwick, Sunderland, who has previous convictions for taking from the elderly, admitted theft.

He also admitted a charge of burglary after he conned his way into a student’s flat while on bail and took a laptop and phone.

Judge Paul Sloan QC sentenced Stead to three years behind bars.

The judge said: “The lady was on her own and obviously vulnerable.

“It is clear you deliberately targeted her.

“On the pretext of helping her with her shopping, you stole her purse and contents.”

Nigel Barnes, defending, said: “I accept this was targeting of a vulnerable victim, as does he.”

Mr Barnes said drugs and drink are the causes of Stead’s offending and he has been making efforts to try and “rebuild another life”.