Oban duo who stole from vulnerable pensioner jailed

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A man and woman from Oban were sentenced to 12 months imprisonment each for breaking into the home of a vulnerable pensioner who had been given only months to live.

‘I see no reason in differentiating between you,’ said Sheriff Patrick Hughes when he jailed Sharon Isobell MacAllister, of 4b Sinclair Drive, and Russell MacLennan, of 18a Dalintart Drive, on Friday.

Both had admitted breaking into the flat then occupied by the victim, now deceased, at 2 Sinclair Drive, and stealing a cash box containing £180, two wallets, a bank card and a Tesco clubcard. This happened on August 31 or September 1, 2016.

Thirty-year-old MacAllister, a neighbour who had volunteered to shop for the man on occasions, sobbed as she was led from the dock. She and MacLennan, an Afghan war veteran, had each told the police that the other had entered the pensioner’s flat while they kept watch outside.

‘Housebreaking is one of the most serious offences this court can deal with. People are entitled to feel safe within their homes,’ said Sheriff Hughes. ‘This vulnerable man had four months left to live,’ he added, saying that for those last four months he did not feel safe.

Sheriff Hughes said he had listened carefully to the good and thorough social work reports and submissions from the defence agents for both of the accused, but in this case there was no alternative but custody.

Procurator fiscal depute Emma Thomson told the court that the 79-year-old, who suffered from dementia, had carers who visited daily. He kept a small black-coloured cash box with money to pay for day-to-day living expenses, which was kept in the same place in his flat. On August 31, a carer reported this being in its usual place.

The next morning the man found that his kitchen window, which was above the sink, was open and dishes and trays in the sink had been disturbed but he thought nothing of it. When a carer arrived and went to get cash for his shopping, the box was missing and on seeing the window had been forced open they called the police.

‘A scene-of-crime examiner recovered two different fingerprints from inside the window and the window frame and these were subsequently matched to MacAllister and MacLennan,’ said Ms Thomson.

When interviewed, MacAllister told police: ‘Basically, I was the eyes and ears and Russell climbed in the window because I was too short. He climbed in the window and got whatever he got.’

When interviewed by police, MacLennan admitted he was involved but was the one who kept look-out.

His defence agent, Graeme Wright, said: ‘He accepts he was involved but did not go in because he didn’t know where the box had been. He had no previous contact with the complainant.’

The procurator fiscal depute said: ‘The cash was spent quickly on controlled drugs and the other items discarded in a nearby burn.’

MacAllister’s defence agent, Edward Thornton, said: ‘To her credit, the social work report shows she [MacAllister] accepts full responsibility and has shown substantial remorse. She is disgusted and humiliated by her actions.

‘She knew [the man] and when she came to her senses she felt what she had done was despicable. She was a good neighbour to him in the past, she had volunteered to do shopping for him. She accepts she betrayed the trust put in her.’

He added that her actions ‘can only be put down to a relapse’. MacAllister had been using Valium and heroin.

Since September 2016, she had taken steps to deal with her addiction issues and taken professional help. MacAllister was on a methadone clinical reduction programme.

In MacLennan’s defence, Mr Wright said the 29-year-old ex-serviceman had received treatment and medication for what had happened during his time in Afghanistan but that he had descended a ‘spiral staircase’ into addiction.

‘Prior to joining the army, he got into trouble fairly regularly. Joining the army can be the making of a man but it can also damage a man. His social report mentions what happened to him while in Afghanistan. He went from prescription drugs and found himself in the company of people he would not want to be with.’

He added that MacLennan had since turned his life around, had a good job and had begun to help with youth work and anti-drug counselling: ‘He has shown absolute remorse. He is in steady employment and deeply regrets his actions. His report said he was at low-risk of re-offending.’

But Sheriff Hughes said there was no alternative but custody.