Fundraising appeal for woman fined £330 for stealing 75p Mars Bar reaches nearly £14K

Louisa Sewel was charged over 438 times the monetary of what she stole in costs at Kidderminister Magistrates Court last week

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The Independent Online

A fundraising appeal to help a woman who was fined £330 for stealing a 75p Mars Bar has now reached nearly £14,000 in just four days.

Louisa Sewell pleaded guilty to theft at Kidderminster Magistrates Court on 6 August and was fined £73 for the theft, 75p in compensation to the store, £150 in court charges, £85 in prosecution costs and a £20 victim surcharge.

She had told the court she stole the cheapest item she could find because she had not eaten in days since her benefits were sanctioned.

This came to a total of £328.75, more than 438 times the value of the original item she stole.

But a crowdfunding campaign dubbed “a small gesture of solidarity”, set up by Stuart Campbell in Bath, with the original goal of raising £500 has now raised £13,763.

The excess money will go to a poverty charity in Dumfries, Scotland.

Mr Campbell told the Independent: “I saw the story yesterday, and while you read awful benefit-sanctions stories like this every day now, it seemed an especially dreadful example.

“She was failed by society on so many levels and at so many points down the line it's just horrific. For someone to have decided to go ahead with the prosecution is grotesque."

The charges are part of changes to the courts system brought in by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling shortly before the election in May.

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Ms Sewell was fined £328.75 at Kidderminster Magistrates Court last week

Speaking to The Independent , Gary Harper, a member of the solicitors' firm Hamer Childs, which represented Ms Sewel in the court case, said the measures seemed to be imposed “with no consultation at all”.

Although he said he was not authorised to comment on Ms Sewel’s case specifically, he said “these charges are a flat fee and don’t take into account people’s ability to pay.”

Magistrates are “very reluctant” to send people to prison over failure to pay the fees but the legislation will mean they have to wait at least two years before it can be written off, he explained.

He said the Government had imposed the changes with seemingly little or no input from the legal profession: “Its meant to make the courts self financing and it kind of got sneak in at the end of the coalition government. It just appeared in the circular and it was done.”

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