A housing benefits officer who demanded her favourite supermarket evacuate all its London stores during a £30,000 blackmail bid narrowly escaped jail yesterday.
Convinced crime was the only way to clear her rising debts, 32-year-old Selina Aktar went to great lengths to ensure the payoff went without a hitch. But she made numerous calls to Sainsbury's head office from her home phone, Southwark Crown court, London, was told. Police watched her arrive to collect two plastic bin-liners stuffed with photocopied cash.
Judge Peter Fingret told Aktar, who has one child, that her history of depression coupled with genuine remorse, convinced him he could take an "exceptional" course and allow her to walk free. "I accept this was not a sophisticated plan and that you took no steps to conceal your identity," he told the weeping woman.
He also said she had previous unblemished character and pleaded guilty to blackmail last April. "I am satisfied it is treatment you require rather than punishment," he added, imposing a three-year community rehabilitation order.
Bartholomew O'Toole, prosecuting, said Aktar, of Tottenham, north London, had phoned Sainsbury's Holborn headquarters warning that what she was about to say was not "very nice". She added: "I want £30,000 from your organisation. If you don't pay me there will be consequences."
She never spelt them out, but ordered the supermarket chain to "evacuate" all their London stores within half an hour. Despite being ignored, she called again the following day, again demanding cash.
After several calls she was told the money would be left at a trading estate. Police watched her bundle the bags in her car. When she tried to drive away she was arrested.
She told officers: "There is no excuse for what I have done. I got myself into a lot of trouble with debt. It was just getting out of control." Asked why she chose Sainsbury's, she said: "It was where I shopped. I deserved to be caught."