Shoplifting spree ex-teacher McAleese spared jail
A former primary school teacher who lost her job in a "dramatic fall from grace" admitted to police she had stolen more than 130 items of clothing from shops over a two-year period, a court was told yesterday.
Catherine Mary McAleese, from Ballyloughan Avenue, Ballymena, appeared at the town's magistrates' court for sentencing after previously pleading guilty to four charges of theft and one of burglary.
The 48-year-old's prolific shoplifting spree was detected in October last year when she was caught with eight items, including cosmetics, at the Marks & Spencer store in Ballymena's Fairhill Centre.
Other items stolen from New Look and Boots in the centre were also recovered and passed as fit for re-sale.
A prosecutor said McAleese had previously received a banning notice from Marks & Spencer after an incident in Belfast, so she was technically trespassing when she entered the Ballymena branch.
The prosecutor added that when police searched her home, they found 136 items of clothing with the tags still on.
Officers could not confirm if most of the items in her property had been stolen.
But during an interview, McAleese admitted that all but three or four items had been obtained by theft over a period of two years.
She also told police she was a recovering alcoholic and had to stop work because of a "life-changing injury".
Defence solicitor John McAtamney said the former primary school teacher had a "dramatic fall from grace", was blighted by alcohol and had lost her job and self-esteem.
The solicitor added that McAleese was a "fragile" person who replaced "one form of addictive behaviour with another".
Mr McAtamney told the court that when police found the items in the defendant's home they still had price tags on and were still in bags, which, he added, was "hard to fathom".
Ordering McAleese to carry out 100 hours of community service, District Judge Peter King conceded the defendant had significant background issues, but pointed out that it was not her first brush with the law.
He also told the defendant, who was sat in the dock for the sentencing hearing, that her shoplifting was a "bizarre escapade" carried out by someone who was not a "criminal mastermind".