Northern Ireland news

Judge hits out at 'gang of professional beggars' who fly in and out of Romania in shifts

District Judge Barney McElholm hit out a gang of 'professional beggars' as he jailed a woman for two months

A District Judge said he was "taking a hard line" against a "gang of professional beggars" who fly in and out of Romania in shifts as he jailed a woman for shoplifting in Derry.

Florica Crina Ispas (29), of no fixed abode, admitted stealing a bottle of vodka from Tesco in the Quayside shopping centre on Saturday afternoon.

Derry Magistrates Court was told police were called after the defendant and an unknown male were seen entering the store and going to the alcohol section.

The man lifted the bottle of vodka and handed it to Ispas, who concealed it and walked out without paying.

All of this was captured on CCTV.

When interviewed Ispas said she had forgotten to pay as she was on the phone to her children in Romania.

Asked who the man was, she said she did not know and denied he had asked her to steal the vodka.

District Judge Barney McElholm said she seemed to have forgotten what she went into the shop for as she had bought nothing.

Defence solicitor George Copeland said his client was a Romanian national and a mother of seven children.

He said she had flown into Dublin some six weeks ago on a travel visa and had lived on the streets there before going to Belfast and then Derry, where she also lived on the streets.

The solicitor said she could give no explanation as to why she stole the vodka apart from that she forgot.

Judge McElholm said he had been briefed by the City Centre Initiative and police and these people were not street drinkers but flew in and out of Dublin in shifts.

He said Ispas had appeared in court in Belfast in December so she has been in the country a lot longer than six weeks.

The judge said this was a gang of "professional beggars" who could afford to fly in and out and are all "living very well at home".

"These people do a great disservice to the homeless," he said.

"They are a professionally organised gang who come here to beg on the streets and take advantage of the good nature of the people here."

Sentencing Ispas to two months in prison, he said he didn't believe a word she said and "this is not someone stealing food as they are starving".

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