Axminster thief spared prison

PUBLISHED: 09:20 22 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:57 23 March 2018

Exeter Crown Court. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref exeter crown court

Exeter Crown Court. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref exeter crown court


Court told that 45-year-old woman who stole from local homes was manipulated by others

A ‘despicable’ sneak thief who was caught red handed inside four different homes in and around Axminster has been given a final chance to overcome her drug addiction.

Shelly Branson made up petty excuses for being inside the houses but as soon as she left the owners realised that she had either stolen from them or searched for money.

Branson also used bank and credit cards stolen by another intruder to draw out large amounts of cash.

She was liable for a mandatory prison sentence under the ‘three strikes and you’re out rule’ but was spared jail after a judge heard there were exceptional circumstances behind her crimes.

Exeter Crown Court was told she had been exploited by others because of her drug addiction and that her case was close to one of modern slavery.

Branson, aged 45, of The Cricketers, Axminster, admitted two burglaries, two attempted burglaries, and three frauds and was ordered to undertake 50 days of rehabilitation activities as part of a 30-month community order by Judge David Evans.

He told her: “There were four dwelling burglaries, in each of which you were found by one of the householders in their homes, having entered in all likelihood through insecure front doors or windows.

“On being challenged, you had quick excuses to give before leaving or being ushered out. Each of the households either discovered money missing or noticed that items had been moved.

“You know perfectly well this was all despicable. You were obviously in the grip of unfortunate personal circumstances, including a relapse into drug use.

“You were a blight on the lives of householders in Axminster and surrounding areas. It must have been some relief to them that you have been in custody.”

The judge said he was not activating the mandatory three-year term because of the contents of a psychiatric report and a probation report.

These highlighted Branson’s personal difficulties, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.

Nigel Wraith, prosecuting, said over a four-month period, Branson was found inside homes at Uplyme, Kilmington and Axminster.

The raids were at homes in Uplyme, Axminster, and Kilmington. A total of £60 cash was stolen.

Branson told a series of stories to explain her being in other people’s homes, including saying that her bicycle had a puncture and she was looking for a pump.

She also used cards stolen in other raids. The PIN numbers of one set of cards were with them and she took out £1,770 from an ATM at Tesco, in Axminster.

Emily Pitts, defending, said there were exceptional circumstances that led Branson to commit the crimes.

She told an earlier hearing that she had been used by others and the extent of the manipulation meant her status was close to that of a modern slave.

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