A CLEANER who arranged for removal men to empty a flat where she worked has been told she was lucky to avoid jail.
Deborah Wilkinson and her son, Daniel Payne, used a key she had for the flat in Stanhope Road, to let themselves in.
They arranged for removal men to go to the property and take a freezer, cooker and tumble dryer worth more than £1,000 in return for a cash payment, on September 3.
But Wilkinson, 44, and 22-year-old Payne – who live just two doors away from the flat they targeted – were arrested later the same day by police who were investigating the thefts.
The pair pleaded guilty to theft at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court last week, and the case was adjourned by magistrates who asked the probation service to prepare a report about them.
On Friday, they were back at the court before District Judge Helen Cousins, who said she would have jailed them, had the magistrates not indicated they wanted to give Wilkinson and Payne community orders last week.
Judge Wilson said: “If the magistrates hadn’t tied my hands, you would have been looking at a custodial sentence, especially you Mrs Wilkinson.”
The district judge said Wilkinson had demonstrated a serious breach of trust by using the keys to the flat to steal from inside.
Both Wilkinson and Payne were given 18-month community orders with supervision, and ordered to pay £500 each in compensation to the flat’s landlord.
At the first hearing, Glenda Beck, prosecuting, said: “The person who lived at the flat got a phone call at 5pm on September 3 from a neighbour saying there were people emptying his flat.
“He got there at 7.30pm and found that his freezer, cooker and tumble dryer had been stolen.
“He thought it was strange because he had the only key and there was no sign of forced entry.
“Another neighbour said he saw two people in the flat wearing removal uniforms taking out items.”
The court heard that when police contacted the removal firm, they said someone had come in who had a key to the flat and said they wanted the white goods removing.