A thief who stole purses from supermarket shoppers has been spared jail again - despite breaching her suspended sentence.

Sharon Rooney, from Oldham, rifled through the handbags of elderly, disabled and pregnant women while they were shopping.

She targeted 13 victims at supermarkets across Liverpool, Widnes, Warrington and St Helens last year.

The single mum-of-five had 42 past convictions for 101 offences, including a staggering 62 matters of theft, the Liverpool Echo reports.

But she claimed she only stole to provide for her children after her benefits were cut and yelled at reporters: "How dare you judge me!"

A judge deferred sentencing last November, to give Rooney a chance to prove herself, and spared her jail in April, because of her children.

Judge Anil Murray handed her 16 months in prison, suspended for two years, with a 35-day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR).

Sharon Rooney

He told Rooney he was giving her a 'huge chance' and warned the crook that if he saw her again: "You're not likely to get another one."

Liverpool Crown Court heard Rooney, formerly of Haydock, failed to attend two Probation Service induction appointments just days after that sentence was passed.

But, Rooney sobbed as a defence lawyer explained she missed them because she 'fled' Merseyside to a new home in Oldham after being targeted by a vigilante group.

Sharon Rooney

Rooney, whose elderly victims lost treasured photos of lost loved ones, was shamed on Christmas Eve by a group called the 'Pensioners Avengers'.

Disgusted neighbours decorated her garden fence with purses and left a note with the message 'Merry Pursemass'.

Prosecutors said the mum also complained about her house being 'egged' in the aftermath of her last court appearance, on April 17.

Rooney shook her head in the dock when she admitted failing to comply with the order by missing sessions on April 27 and 29.

Martyn Walsh, prosecuting, said a Probation Service report from May 6 referred to Rooney showing 'a low level of engagement'.

He said she then moved to Oldham, her case was being transferred to Greater Manchester Probation Service and she was inducted on June 1.

Mr Walsh said: "She said that was because of difficulties she was experiencing at her home address, including eggs being thrown."

Judge Murray said he should have been sent an updated report and wanted to know why Rooney hadn't started rehabilitation.

He adjourned the case until Friday afternoon, when Mr Walsh provided an update in writing.

Gareth Roberts, defending, said: "Her case became something of a cause celebre in the local area, helped by some press reporting, which was quite evocative, provocative I should say.

"She became a target of a group called the Pensioners Avengers.

"They came to her house, these vigilantes who were unhappy with what she had done. She was scared to leave her house initially.

"She then left the address and only received the letter after the meeting, although she accepts she was told orally there was a meeting, but letters giving the details arrived after she left the address."

Mr Roberts said Rooney 'fled' to Oldham and that his client claimed she had told the Probation Service she was too scared to attend.

Judge Murray said: "The problem is, I struggle to believe anything she is telling me."

Rooney started sobbing, at which point Judge Murray said: "She is putting on an act. She is pulling faces, she is doing it now.

"She is trying to persuade me by her acting and I'm afraid to tell you it's having the opposite effect to what she wants."

Mr Roberts said since June, his client had been in fortnightly contact with the Probation Service, which had assisted her with housing.

He said: "She is living, eight people, her and her five children, with her step daughter and step daughter's partner, in a two-bedroom flat. It's of course entirely impractical and they are in the process of being moved."

Mr Roberts said Rooney accepted she needed help, was no longer in financial difficulty, and hadn't committed any offences since the summer of 2019.

He said: "She has started the process of rehabilitating herself, which is moving away from the area and trying once again to build up roots in a new area with her family.

"Your honour, I would invite the court to give her a second chance, so she can comply with this order."

Judge Murray remanded Rooney in custody for half an hour before passing sentence.

He said prior to reading the updated report he had 'no cause for optimism' about her ability or willingness to complete the order, but the Probation Service said Rooney had secured accommodation for her family and asked him to allow the order to continue, because she was engaging well.

Judge Murray said: "I'm not sure you can keep up the promises that you made to me and I'm not sure you deserve another chance, but having read the updated report, I will allow this order to continue."

He imposed a further five Rehabilitation Activity Requirement days, adding: "I have in mind the welfare of your children, but I can't keep giving you chances because of your children."

The judge said Rooney was 'not out of the woods' and that he wanted monthly updates from her offender manager.

He warned: "I want her to know I consider you to be on a knife edge and I expect you to be shown no more leniency when it comes to breaches of this order.

"If I hear you're not fully complying I will have the case relisted and you know what's likely to happen in these circumstances."

Rooney is currently subject to a four-year Criminal Behaviour Order, banning her from all Morrisons supermarkets, an Aldi store in Clock Face, St Helens, all of Widnes except for three A roads, and all of Warrington, 'other than use of the motorway network'.