A Romanian national has admitting stealing from an 87-year-old woman as she shopped in Oswestry.

Catalin-Mihai Verea, of Thimblemill Road in Smethwick, appeared at Telford Magistrates’ Court today and pleaded guilty to stealing a purse and £75 cash from Sarah Gittins while she was in the town’s Aldi store on Beatrice Street on October 24.

His co-defendant Florin-Iulian Banjanaru, of Mill Hill in Smethwick, failed to appear for the hearing and a warrant for his arrest without bail was issued after the court was told his partner had allegedly gone into labour in London.

Abigail Hall, prosecuting, said Miss Gittins had been shopping when the two defendants went over to her. She was distracted while her purse was taken from her bag, but was unaware of the theft until she came to pay for her items.

A victim impact statement from Miss Gittins said: “To be honest I’m a tough nut and I’ve been carrying on as normal. I wasn’t physically hurt. I didn’t know anything had happened until I got to the till and couldn’t find my purse.”

She added: “I’ve carried on with my normal routine, I haven’t let it stop me from doing anything.”

Miss Gittins’ statement added that her biggest cost had been the £48 she had had to pay in bus fares into Oswestry as the purse, which was thrown in a bin, also contained her bus pass and loyalty cards.

Mrs Lisa Morris-Jones, defending Verea, told the court her client had travelled to Oswestry with his co-defendant for a two-week cleaning job which had been agreed with a third party over the phone.

She continued: “When the third party failed to appear it was apparent they would have to go home. They went into the store to purchase food and while they were in the store they saw Sarah Gittins.

“Maybe it has been suggested she was targeted but that is not the case, she was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Mrs Morris-Jones said Verea, 44, a self-employed car washer, gained £35 from the theft which he used to buy food and pay for the bus home.

She said: “He is sorry for what has happened and is absolutely appalled at his actions – he will never commit this type of offence again.”

Verea received an 18-month community order and must complete 200 hours unpaid work. He must also pay half the compensation owed to Miss Gittins amounting to £192.50, plus court costs of £185 and a victim surcharge of £85.

In her sentencing, Mrs Margaret Linington-Payne, chairman of the magistrates’ bench, told Verea: “This was a despicable crime.

“You are fortunate that your victim was emotionally strong.”