Jeans mum wins appeal

A single mother won her appeal today against being jailed for stealing a £10 pair of jeans.

Alison Hewitt was instead ordered to serve 100 hours community service after senior judges ruled the original three-months prison sentence was manifestly excessive.

Following her successful challenge the 27-year-old said: “I’m just glad its over.”

Hewitt, of Patterson Park, Strabane, Co Tyrone, was convicted by a jury of stealing the jeans from a small clothes shop in Derry in August 2009.

A four-day Crown Court trial heard how she took three pairs into a changing room, along with her young daughter in a pram, but only returned two.

The severity of the punishment handed down to the first-time offender provoked widespread public shock.

Her lawyers argued in the Court of Appeal today that it went beyond a reasonable response to the offence of shoplifting.

Barrister Martin McCann said: “The courts must behave in a humane way.

“This is a civilised society and it only becomes less civilised for the courts not to demonstrate the sort of humanity I would suggest this case obviously deserves.”

Responding to his submissions, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said those who target shopkeepers trying to run businesses in difficult times must realise they risk going to jail.

The court heard how the method used to remove a security tag from the jeans will remain a mystery.

Prosecuting counsel argued that Hewitt using her sleeping child to take the buggy into the changing room was an aggravating factor.

Judges rejected that submission but took more notice of the status of the shop targeted.

Sir Declan said: “This is the sort of independent trader which the law is there to protect.”

He also agreed with the the trial judge’s description of Hewitt’s actions as being calculated, premeditated and deliberate.

But Sir Declan took note of her age, lack of any previous convictions and her parental responsibilities.

He said these factors may not have been as obvious and developed before the trial judge as they were on appeal.

“We have concluded in this difficult case, having regard to the matters now before us, this case just falls on the side of sentencing which takes it outside or below the custody threshold,” he said.

Holding that the jail term should be interfered with for being manifestly excessive, the court imposed 100 hours community service as a substitute punishment.

Hewitt, who had been out on bail pending the outcome of the hearing, spoke only to express her relief at the resolution.