Jailed loot handler freed on appeal

A woman who accepted a pair of looted shorts from her housemate has walked free from prison after her sentence was reduced on appeal.

Mother-of-two Ursula Nevin, 24, was jailed for five months by a district judge last week after she pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods.

The Recorder of Manchester, Judge Andrew Gilbart QC, ruled today that the decision was "wrong in principle" as he ordered that she should instead perform 75 hours of unpaid work for the community.

Nevin was in bed at the time of the widespread disorder in Manchester city centre where her lodger, Gemma Corbett, helped herself to clothing and footwear from the Vans store and then took them back to the house they shared in Stretford, Greater Manchester.

Nevin wailed in the dock at Manchester Magistrates' Court last Friday as District Judge Khalid Qureshi told her she was supposed to be a role model to her two young sons and criticised her for not speaking up and ordering the stolen haul to be moved out of the house.

Judge Gilbart said today that he had indicated in previous sentencing remarks on looters that a distinction could be made for people receiving stolen goods who had not been physically present during the disorder throughout Manchester city centre and Salford shopping precinct last Tuesday.

"Ursula Nevin did not go into Manchester city centre," he said. "We regard it as wrong in principle that she was subject to a custodial sentence.

"She must pay some sentence because she knew where the goods had come from.

"Seventy-five hours of unpaid work appears to be the appropriate figure bearing in mind the guilty plea."

Addressing Nevin, who had no previous convictions, he said: "You must have found yourself, in the circumstances of the last week, trapped in a circle of hell.

"The way you never get into that situation again is to show the courage to say 'no'.

"I am sure the courts will not be troubled by you again. Leave now and look after your children."

The defendant cried as the sentence was reduced, as did family members in the public gallery, including her mother.

Today's hearing at Manchester Crown Court was thought to be one of the first appeals to be heard on a sentence given at a Magistrates' Court involving the disturbances across England last week.

Michael Morley, prosecuting, said it was "perhaps to the misfortune" of the defendant that she had rented a room to Corbett, who was the sister of Nevin's then boyfriend.

Corbett - who was also jailed for 18 months today - went into the city centre with at least one other person on the evening of August 9 and later returned to the house after midnight.

Police received a tip-off that call centre worker Corbett, 24, had been boasting about her exploits by showing off photographs of the stolen goods on her mobile phone.

Corbett was arrested at her workplace in Sale two days later and police went on to search the shared house in North Lonsdale Street.

Mr Morley said: "The defendant said she was aware of Gemma Corbett bringing a number of items home.

"She had tried on one pair of shorts and kept them."

Richard Vardon, defending, said his client had been "torn" with feelings of loyalty to her boyfriend.

He said the "doting" mother had been separated from her children for the first time in their lives.

"She has been devastated by that period of separation and devastated by her first period in custody," he said.

"This is a young lady who has never been arrested.

"In her own words she says she is absolutely disgusted by those who wreaked havoc in this city.

"She is ashamed and humiliated in appearing before a public court. Hers has been a very public humiliation.

"This defendant was no part of any involvement in the looting on the streets of Manchester."

Judge Gilbart interjected: "Which is why it was wrong to send her to prison."

Mr Vardon continued to explain her part was to allow her lodger to return with the stolen goods as she was woken up while her children slept.

"She was put in a terrible posiiton," he said. "The following day she was offered a pair of shorts which, quite foolishly, she accepted."

"This offence was brought upon her by others, one who made no comment to the police.

"She has been incarcerated in an environment which she found extremely challenging."

The court was told that her relationship with her boyfriend was now over, although he sat in the public gallery to support her.