Belfast Telegraph

Trial and error... case over ‘stolen’ £10 item will cost £10,000

By Louise Small

The attempted prosecution of a woman accused of stealing kitchen repair patches worth just over £10 has been branded a “farce”.

Ewa Pietrzycka (27) was cleared last week of stealing the items from B&Q following a lengthy court battle.

She was called to appear in court 17 times and costs to the public are expected to top £10,000.

It’s the latest case where the PPS has been criticised for wasting taxpayers’ money by taking prosecutions for minor offences.

Ms Pietrzycka (27) was shopping for the repair patches to fix a leak in her sink when she put the item in her pocket without thinking.

She opted for a trial by jury in the Crown Court and was found not guilty last week.

Ms Pietrzycka said: “I was shopping in B&Q with my ex-boyfriend looking for a piece to repair my sink.

“We were walking about for an hour and I had the patches in my hand.

“I work night shifts as a care assistant so I was very tired and put the item in my pocket accidentally.

“I forgot all about it and went to leave the store when the security guard approached me.”

Ms Pietrzycka said she tried to explain what happened but the guard phoned the PSNI. She said: “The security man stopped me and I didn't have a chance to explain, he called the police straight away and when they arrived I had to sign a piece of paper.”

Ms Pietrzycka then received a letter from the court informing her of the first case.

“I didn't think it was that serious. I was adamant I was innocent, I didn’t feel guilty. It was an honest mistake.”

She left her job to work in a factory but found it difficult to find employment after police checks came back informing her employer she had charges of theft against her name.

“I had been working as a care assistant for three years. After I left I found it difficult to get employment. My solicitor spoke to my old boss and informed him of my innocence and I was re-employed,” she said.

The case had been ongoing from December 2010. Defence solicitor Paul McCrudden said: “My main concern is the PPS said the case would go away if Ewa accepted a caution. This would be an admission of guilt.”

Defending its decision to prosecute, a PPS spokesperson said: “In general terms theft is a serious offence.

“Prosecution was initially in the Magistrates Court.

“The accused has the right to elect for trial in the Crown Court, the prosecution cannot object to that.

“It is a matter for the jury to determine guilt or innocence.”

Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA Lord Morrow, who has previously spoken out against such trivial cases through the courts, said: “I in no way condone theft. Theft has to be punished, but we are caught in an awful trap where we don’t use discretion in these cases.

“If these big stores were paying the legal costs they would think twice about prosecuting.

“I presume this was a legal aid case and the taxpayers now have to foot the bill.

“Where is the rationale... a £10,000 case for a £10.18 low-cost item?

“The PPS have to stop and look and I would say lessons should have been learned from previous cases,” he said.

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