Career thief pretended to help elderly and disabled shoppers while swiping their purses

A career thief who preyed on elderly and vulnerable shoppers in supermarkets has been jailed for more than four years.

Sharon Rooney, who has 45 previous convictions, swiped purses from older women while they were shopping, including some who used mobility scooters and walking aids and had disabilities, Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court heard.

Among her 14 victims was an 81-year-old woman recovering from bowel cancer who told the court how she was targeted while shopping in a branch of Aldi in Rochdale.

She explained how Rooney offered to help her while she was reaching towards a shelf but realised her purse had gone when she arrived at the checkout. Rooney went on to spend £300 on the woman’s debit card.

In a victim impact statement she told the court: “This crime made me feel extremely frightened and scared by what happened. I was shivering and shook up when I realised my purse had been stolen. All my life I have felt safe whilst shopping however since this incident, I no longer do and now carry my bag at the front of my body.

“I am recovering from bowel cancer and I feel as if I have been targeted. No one should have to feel this way when going shopping.”

Another of Rooney’s victims lost a beloved photograph of her late parents that she kept inside her purse. The thief’s 14 victims were all female with the youngest aged 63 and the oldest being 89.

One, aged 78, told how she is now fearful of people behind her after she was targeted by Rooney. She said in a statement: “This incident has shook me up and is a total shock to the system. I have never had anything like this happen to me before. It has changed how I shop and I even warn other members of the public who leave their handbag in their trolley not to do so.

“I also now always turn around and look behind me to see who is there and look over my shoulder. I don’t like anyone behind me anymore. It has made me really uneasy.”

The Manchester Evening News reported that Rooney, of Brackley Square, Derker, Oldham, has 45 convictions for a total of 144 offences – 75 of those for theft and “other kindred offences”. The mother-of-five was first convicted 35 years ago in 1987.

She was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence at Liverpool Crown Court in 2020 for five similar offences involving older victims at supermarkets. She was also subjected to a four-year Criminal Behaviour Order, which prohibited her from having bank cards belonging to others on her person and from entering any Morrisons store in the UK. Five of her latest offences took place in Morrisons supermarkets.

Rooney was jailed for four years and three months after admitting 14 counts of theft and breaching the Criminal Behaviour Order. She was also sentenced for breaching the suspended sentence.

Addressing Rooney, judge Bernadette Baxter said: “You cynically target old people as they go around supermarkets with their handbags in their trollies and help yourself to their purses. Every opportunity has been given to you over many years by the courts and by the Probation Service and for reasons that only you know, you have failed to engage in rehabilitation.”

Before jailing her, she continued: “You say you are not a heartless person. I’m afraid that these offences demonstrate that there is a darker side to you that enables you to act in a very much heartless way.”