'Vile' pickpockets who stole from Christmas shoppers avoid prison
Two thieves who went on a Northern Ireland-wide pickpocketing spree just before Christmas walked free from court yesterday after a judge suspended their prison terms.
Freeing Snezhana Miteva (32) and Elena Zlatkova (33) at Craigavon Crown Court, Judge Patrick Lynch QC told the thieves he was suspending their 28-month jail sentences for three years because they had already spent time in custody and there was evidence they had been put under pressure by a Bulgarian crime gang.
Describing their crimes as "mean offences" perpetrated on "vulnerable people", Judge Lynch told the court how one victim, a pensioner, had £700 in her bag that she intended to give to her children for Christmas. When she got home, she discovered the wallet containing the money was gone.
"Imagine how you would feel if some vile individual like you stole your money," he told the two women.
At an earlier hearing, Miteva, from Cloghskelt Road, Ballyward, Castlewellan, and Zlatkova, with an address on Belfast's Lisburn Road, admitted 17 and 19 charges of theft respectively, involving the pair stealing cash and bank cards from unsuspecting women between September 16 and December 12 2017.
Prosecuting counsel Ian Tannahill outlined to the court how the defendants were involved in an "organised pickpocketing scheme" in the run-up to Christmas in 2017.
On December 12 of that year, said the lawyer, CCTV operators in Lisburn noticed two females acting suspiciously in the area of Bow Street Mall. It was suspected they were involved in thefts and police were notified.
The pair were seen putting items into bins. When officers searched them, they recovered numerous handbags and cards that had been reported stolen.
Mr Tannahill revealed that during a search of the defendants' properties, more than £6,800 in cash was uncovered.
It also transpired that both women had booked flights out of Dublin on December 18.
Miteva and Zlatkova were arrested and further police inquiries placed them in the vicinity of offences committed in Lisburn, Portadown, Craigavon, Bangor and Larne.
Defence counsel for Miteva submitted that she was a victim of trafficking and had been since she was 13 years old. The lawyer added their client had suffered threats of violence against her children, who were being cared for by their grandmother.
The barrister added that Miteva accepted she committed the offences but did so "under a degree of pressure."
Conceding the crimes had ban "an unsavoury set of offences," Zlatkova's barrister said that, according to the defendant, she had borrowed money in Bulgaria and that "anything could happen if she didn't do what they (the money lenders) wanted her to do... she was frightened".
The lawyer added that while Zlatkova had not been assessed as having been trafficked, she had links with a crime gang.
Imposing the suspended sentences, Judge Lynch said that while the offences were horrible crimes targeting vulnerable people, he was taking into account the defendants' guilty pleas.