A shameless mum who stole purses from OAPs was today spared jail – despite admitting five more cruel thefts.
Sharon Rooney, 49, rifled through the handbags of vulnerable elderly and disabled women while they were out shopping.
The single mum-of-five was already known to have targeted eight victims at various supermarkets in Widnes and Warrington last year.
Rooney, of Jubilee Crescent, Haydock, had 42 past convictions for 101 offences, including a staggering 62 matters of theft.
But the sobbing crook said she only stole to provide for her children – some of whom have difficulties – after her benefits were reduced.
She was given a chance to prove herself last November, when a judge decided to defer her sentencing until today.
Rooney claimed to be remorseful, but later blasted ECHO reporters, screeching: "How dare you judge me!"
Liverpool Crown Court today heard Rooney admitted five additional thefts against OAPs and a pregnant woman.
However, prosecutors accepted these crimes all predated her last court appearance and she hadn't broken the law for six months.
Judge Anil Murray said he wasn't certain whether he would have deferred sentencing, had he known about the other thefts.
But the judge said he promised Rooney he wouldn't jail her if she stayed out of trouble and said: "Given that I made that promise, I will keep it."
Judge Murray handed her 16 months in prison, suspended for two years, with a 35-day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement.
He imposed a Criminal Behaviour Order, banning her from all Morrisons supermarkets and an Aldi store in Clock Face, St Helens.
The four-year order also bans Rooney from Widnes, except for three A roads, and from Warrington, "other than use of the motorway network".
Last year, Rooney admitted eight counts of theft and 30 counts of fraud, relating to a three-month crime wave from July to September.
Nardeen Nemat, prosecuting, today confirmed Rooney had not been accused, charged or bailed over any new offences since.
However, five more thefts came to light, the first at the Aldi in Clock Face on July 15, when she dipped into a woman's handbag.
CCTV cameras showed Rooney taking the woman's late husband's wallet, which was of "sentimental value".
It contained £70 in cash, £50 in change, two debit cards, her bus pass and an emergency contacts card.
On August 22, CCTV recorded Rooney following a woman at Cool Trader at Belle Vale Shopping Centre and taking her purse, containing £140.
Top news stories
Rooney stole a woman's purse at a Tesco in Mossley Hill on August 30, which contained £450 in cash, cards and "sentimental items".
One bank card was later used in four transactions totalling £61 and an attempt was made to withdraw money at an ATM.
Ms Nemat said the victim was "very upset", adding: "She was left feeling very sick and is constantly checking her handbag now."
CCTV captured despicable Rooney targeting a pregnant woman at the Aldi in Clock Face on September 7.
The victim's purse contained £40 in cash, loose change, her driving licence and two bank cards.
She rang her bank and was told one card was used to spend £52 and in a failed transaction and cash withdrawal.
On September 10, Rooney took a woman's purse at an Aldi store in East Prescot Road, Knotty Ash.
The victim lost £50 in cash, her bank card and her husband's, and later discovered five transactions totalling £112.
Ms Nemat said: "She now feels very anxious and paranoid when she goes shopping… she now wears her bag around her neck."
The prosecutor confirmed Rooney was only charged with the thefts – not what the judge referred to as the "frauds".
Philip Tully, defending, said: "What is important is there is no new offending since November of last year.
"What it also shows is that the lack of offending since that time, if your honour is able to impose the sentence and additional requirements asked for by the Probation Service, your honour can do that with some confidence that Miss Rooney has put her offending behind her."
Judge Murray also referred to Mr Tully's mitigation put forward last year, that jailing Rooney would have a "significant harmful impact" on her five children.
Sparing her jail, he told Rooney to attend a Women's Turnaround Programme, and said: "You need to know that you have been given a huge chance.
"You're not likely to get another one. If you breach this order by committing more offences so failing to attend the activities that I've ordered, the overwhelming likelihood is the first time we meet again I will activate this sentence."
Judge Murray said he was reserving any breaches to himself and warned: "I will not forget you. If you breach this order or commit any more offences, that is what will happen to you."
Rooney, whose victims lost treasured photos of lost loved ones, was shamed at Christmas by a group called the 'Pensioners Avengers'.
Neighbours decided to decorate her garden fence with a special festive 'collage'.
A group of vigilantes calling themselves the Pensioners Avengers adorned her fence with purses on Christmas Eve.
And the neighbours left a note bearing the message "Merry Pursemass' to remind her they haven't forgotten what she did.
One resident said: "Sharon Rooney heartlessly stole the purses of, and ruthlessly targeted, extremely elderly old ladies, cruelly discarding their treasured mementoes, i.e. photos of late husbands or kids and grandchildren, then stealing much-needed cash and purchasing goodies for herself with stolen credit cards.
"She then played the special needs card to escape a fitting punishment. She purported to be a victim herself but the community knows her true persona.
"A group called the Pensioners Avengers have not let her forget so easily by putting a collage of old dears' purses with the message 'Merry Pursemass' on it on her front fence, which she removed later on in the day, after several passers-by had seen it.
"It may seem a bit cold – but think of the poor old ladies who were condemned to a Christmas without memories of their loved ones."
When she left court last November, the furious thief yelled at one member of ECHO staff: "I've got five kids you know – [is this] just for a page?"
Confronted by an ECHO reporter taking her photograph, the prolific shoplifter barked: "F*** off, I feel like throwing that."
Stories from Liverpool Crown Court
The indignant mum added: "You're disgusting. I've got five kids and you're reporting that story."
She laughed and mimicked writing, before the reporter agreed that targeting the elderly was "disgusting".
Rooney then flipped, yelling: "I know it is. How dare you judge me! You're disgraceful. Just to write a page."