A woman has been jailed after carrying out a number of ‘despicable’ thefts against elderly people – when she was recognised for looking like Johnny Vegas.
Tracey MacDonald, 41, repeatedly approached older women in Wythenshawe, distracted them, before stealing cash.
But she was caught after being ‘named and shamed’ on social media.
Back in 2013 she was nicknamed ‘Johnny Vegas’ sister’ on social media after she appeared on TV’s Daybreak – a predecessor of Good Morning Britain – to brag of her welfare handouts after her housing association urged her cut back on cigarettes, alcohol and Sky TV to cope with benefit cuts.
MacDonald was arrested after police officers recognised the description of her ‘fat cheeks’ and having a passing resemblance to the comedian and former Benidorm star, MailOnline reported.
MacDonald, of no fixed address, stole a total of around £1,300 from the five women, Manchester Crown Court heard.
She pleaded guilty to five counts of theft from a person at an earlier hearing, but the court deferred her sentence to allow her to ‘go straight’.
MacDonald then failed to attend court in March, so was arrested and remanded into custody.
She appeared via video link on Tuesday from HMP Styal. She was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
MacDonald has 50 previous convictions for 112 offences, including numerous offences of theft from a person.
Prosecutor Gavin Howie said the first offence happened on February 15, 2018 when an 86-year-old woman went shopping in the Wythenshawe Civic Centre.
‘She went to the Halifax bank and made a withdrawal of £200,’ he added.
‘She uses a frame with wheels, what she affectionately calls her “wheeler”, though she is not disabled.
‘MacDonald approached the lady and said to her, “You need to be careful, there’s a lot of wrong people about who will take the money for drugs.” How prophetic.
‘The defendant then lifted the seat up from the wheeler and was rummaging around in it and [the victim] said she didn’t like it and told her to stop.
‘The cash was still in her hand when she told her to go away, and she then hid the money in the seat.
‘As the defendant reached into the seat to distract the lady she said, “Be careful, there are a lot of drug users around here,” and the woman told her to get away from her and walked away from the defendant.
‘She stopped to check her belongings and found the money she had placed under the seat was gone.’
Another victim was outside the Halifax bank on March 7 when she was approached by MacDonald, who asked if she smoked. The woman later realised £50 cash was missing.
A few days later, MacDonald went to a woman’s house and said she was delivering Easter eggs and asked for a pen and paper.
She was then seen ‘going through everything like a toddler’.
After MacDonald had gone, the woman noticed a black purse had been taken, which had £110 inside, as well as two bank cards and a piece of paper with the pin code on. A further £400 was withdrawn from her bank account, the court heard.
Another elderly woman was approached by MacDonald a couple of days later, who offered to push her trolley for her.
She refused, but MacDonald continued to follow her.
‘The woman noticed her purse had been taken as the defendant walked away, and told a family friend and Good Samaritan about what had happened,’ he said.
‘The friend walked right up to MacDonald, grabbed the purse out of her hand and returned it to the woman, but £140 was missing.’
MacDonald was identified after a picture was posted on social media, essentially ‘naming and shaming’ her.
The final victim, who was not retired, had withdrawn £400 from her bank, put it in her coat pocket and walked back to her flat.
MacDonald walked right up to her, took the money and walked off.
In a victim personal statement, one of the ladies said her confidence had been ‘knocked’, she felt distraught about what had happened.
Defence lawyer Jane Dagnall said: ‘These are despicable offences and the defendant has an appalling record.
‘She has COPD and severe diabetes and she has recently spent two spells in hospital for pneumonia.
‘She said the reason she didn’t attend court on the last occasion was because she was poorly.
‘She is particularly vulnerable due to her health in isolation, but she is taking her prescribed medication and she looks well.
Sentencing MacDonald, Judge Alan Conrad QC said: ‘You were given a chance by me at the end of last year when I deferred sentence intended to help you to see if you could go straight, as you had served a custodial sentence in 2018 for similar matters.
‘The court tried to help you, probation tried to help you, but other people won’t be able to help you if you can’t help yourself.
‘These offences are rightly described as despicable. You preyed on vulnerable and elderly people and a custodial sentence is inevitable.’