Ballarat court: magistrate tells thief to get help

A MAGISTRATE admitted he might be setting an elderly woman up to fail after he sentenced the chronic thief to a suspended jail term.

Magistrate John O’Callaghan told Patricia Phyllis Neale, 65, that if she didn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous or another support program she was likely to keep thieving and end up in prison.

Neale appeared in Ballarat Magistrates Court yesterday where she pleaded guilty to two counts of shop theft, relating to incidents on April 17 this year.

The court heard Neale walked out of a Coles supermarket in Ballarat with a trolley full of shopping worth more than $180.

A staff member saw that Neale didn’t pay for the goods and followed her into the car park, where police met the pair. Upon searching the shopping trolley, police discovered confectionary and other items that had been stolen from the Reject Shop.

Mr O’Callaghan said it was clear Neale’s offending was directly linked to alcohol abuse.

“I suspect a genuine and deep link between your offending and drinking,” he said.

“But you’re not a good thief and you’re going to get caught. They’re going to catch you soon.

“If you don’t undertake a program, I’m setting you up to fail. I’m really sort of pleading to you, I don’t want you to go to jail.”

Defence lawyer Jon Irwin initially urged the court to consider a fine, but upon indication from Mr O’Callaghan, asked for a non-immediate jail term.

“She clearly has a chronic problem with shop stealing and a major problem with alcohol,” Mr Irwin said.

Neale was sentenced to 14 days in prison, suspended for 12 months.

In sentencing, Mr O’Callaghan gave the Ballarat woman specific advice.

“The only program I’ve heard that works is Alcoholics Anonymous,” he said. “You’ll also be amazed about its success.”