Merle-Anne Allira Johnson pleaded guilty to 18 theft charges.
Merle-Anne Allira Johnson pleaded guilty to 18 theft charges.

Thief’s stunning question for judge

A WOMAN so strapped for cash she stole from 11 different businesses stunned a courtroom when she asked the magistrate for a job.

Shortly after pleading guilty to 18 thefts, Merle-Anne Allira Johnson, 33, offered up her services to Magistrate Neil Lavaring in the Gladstone Magistrates Court last week.

"Can you hook me up? ... I'm a really good cleaner," she said after Mr Lavaring asked what form of employment she was looking for.

Unable to help, Mr Lavaring suggested she speak to the cleaning company who serviced the Bundaberg courthouse.

Serving an 11-month prison sentence for previous stealing offences, Johnson pleaded guilty to 20 charges via video link late last week.

Her shoplifting saga kicked off on April 11, when Johnson stole $156.67 worth of items from Priceline Pharmacy.

Spanning nine months from April 2017 to January 2018, Johnson stole items from 11 different Gladstone businesses including the Young Australian Hotel, Saltt Clothing, Dicey's Bar and Grill, Chemist Warehouse and Strandbags.

Police prosecutor Senior Constable Balan Selvadurai told the court Johnson owed the businesses more than $1135 in restitution, with her priciest theft of $201 taking place at Dan Murphy's on December 27.

But defence lawyer Jun Pepito said his client's "compulsive stealing behaviour" was due to a "need rather than greed".

"It's killing her inside, what she's done," he said.

The court was told the mother-of-five's behaviour, stemmed from a desire to provide for her family and that she was having issues with Centrelink around the time of the thefts.

"She goes to the shop, steals the item, particularly alcohol, and sells it for money," Mr Pepito said.

He explained his client's offences had targeted bottle shops numerous times because alcohol was easiest to sell.

Via video link from prison, Johnson said she wanted to apologise for her actions.

"I apologise to you (Mr Lavaring), to the entire courtroom ... to the community for all the dodgy s**t I've done," she said.

She also provided a written letter of apology to Mr Lavaring.

Johnson was sentenced to 14 months in prison. She will be eligible for parole on April 9.

She concluded the day in court by personally addressing Mr Lavaring and giving him two thumbs up: "Thanks Neil, I appreciate it!"


This article originally appeared in The Gladstone Observer and has been republished here with permission.

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