Woman offered to shop for blind OAP just to steal her pension

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A thief offered to go shopping for a blind woman at risk from coronavirus just so she could steal her pension.

Nicola Hitchmough previously helped the disabled 66-year-old cross the road, near her sheltered accommodation in Edge Hill.

By doing so she learned the name of the OAP, who is blind in one eye and has very limited sight in the other.

Hitchmough, 39, then tricked her way into the complex where she lived before searching out the victim's flat.

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Liverpool Crown Court heard Hitchmough first knocked on the door of a home belonging to a man in his 70s.

She said "I'm looking for the blind lady" and named the victim, but the resident said: "She doesn't live here."

A 77-year-old man, who had gone to the launderette, returned to his flat and found Hitchmough standing in his hallway.

He asked what she was doing and she again asked for "the blind lady", but he ordered her out and shut the door.

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However, at around 11.10am the blind woman heard a knock on her door and asked who it was.

Derek Jones, prosecuting, said: "She heard a female voice stating 'do you need any shopping'?"

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He added: "The defendant used Covid-19 as an excuse to engage the victim and offered to get her shopping for her and it seemed at one point told the victim she had tested negative for Covid-19."

The victim was in lockdown, but had people from the housing association and flats doing shopping for her, so said she didn't need any help.

But conniving Hitchmough then asked to use her toilet and for some water.

Mr Jones said the kind woman let her into her flat and went to the kitchen to get a bottle of water.

But she then saw the crook leaving, suspected "something was up" and went into her bedroom, to find her purse lying open on the bed.

Mr Jones said: "Inside that had been around £369, which was from her pension. The money was gone."

The woman went outside and shouted "come back here – you've robbed me", prompting Hitchmough to return and empty her pockets of some of the money.

However, she still made off with £160 and left the building, only to be captured on CCTV cameras.

She was arrested on April 21 and accepted visiting the flat, but claimed she was only visiting the victim to help her.

When asked whether her DNA would be on the purse, Hitchmough then suggested she helped the OAP count her money.

Hitchmough, of Arnside Road, Edge Hill, who admitted burglary, has 12 past convictions for 25 offences, dating back 20 years.

They include shoplifting, theft and fraud, but there was a long gap between 2004 and last October, when she carried out another callous theft.

She was handed a two-week curfew on March 17 for going into sheltered accommodation and stealing food from a communal kitchen.

The victim said she just manages to survive on her weekly pension and until this had felt safe at home.

Mr Jones said: "She then refers to the pandemic. She was classed as high risk, which meant she was unable to enjoy her daily outing to the supermarket. In effect she cannot leave her flat.

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"When the defendant offered her help due to Covid-19 she was wary of her, but because she referred to her by name, she was trusting and allowed her in.

"She said she would never have thought somebody could take advantage of her conditions in such a way."

The OAP said Hitchmough entered the "sanctuary" of her home and the theft was "despicable".

Mr Jones said: "She points out 'not only did the defendant steal a large amount of my pension, but she stole my peace of mind'.

The victim now struggles to sleep, fears someone is outside her door looking to exploit her, and cannot trust anyone.

Michael Davies, defending, said Hitchmough was a drug addict who pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, despite lying in her interview.

Nicola Hitchmough targeted a blind woman unable to leave her home

He said: "She was still under the influence of heroin – rather the need for heroin – when she was in the police station, was desperate to get out, and I accept tried to lie her way out of it."

The lawyer told the court: "She really was being ruled by the drugs."

He said Hitchmough had been a drug addict for 10 years, but was now on methadone and wanted to be reunited with her son, 15, who lives with her mum.

Mr Davies said: "She realises if she is going to play any positive role in her son's life, the first thing she has got to do is come off heroin."

Judge David Swinnerton said Hitchmough deliberately targeted her victim and tried to exploit the pandemic.

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He said: "I assume you thought she wouldn't be able to identify you because she was blind or partially sighted in one of her eyes."

The judge said: "You tried to use this public health emergency to gain entry to her flat by pretending you were going to assist her with her shopping, because of her vulnerability.

"That really was a nasty, despicable thing to do, to a very vulnerable old lady, at a time when it's very difficult for everyone.

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"At a time when we congratulate those who are helping people like her, you were the precise opposite."

Judge Swinnerton said Hitchmough took advantage of a nice person, for whom £160 was a very significant amount of money, leaving her traumatised.

Jailing her for three years, he said: "You have deliberately targeted a vulnerable person at a time when she was even more vulnerable than usual."

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