Patience runs out for 85-year-old shoplifter

By Jarrod Booker

The justice system ran out of patience yesterday with 85-year-old war veteran and serial shoplifter Reginald Hugh Donovan.

Donovan, described by Judge Colin Doherty as "incorrigible", was jailed for a month for a series of thefts of basic grocery items such as mushrooms, bacon, eggs and pork fingers, and for trespassing in supermarkets which he had been barred from.

Frequent warnings of jail had failed to end the light-fingered antics of the pensioner who received the Military Medal and was wounded five times while serving in World War II.

"While you may have some difficulties, you know what you are doing," the judge told Donovan in the Christchurch District Court.

"You know you are taking things. Every conceivable attempt to help you in the community has been made."

With a record of about 50 similar convictions since 2000, Donovan came to court prepared. He had the brown suitcase full of his possessions that he brings to his regular court appearances in case jail awaits him.

But Donovan had no desire to return to jail after a short stint there in 2004, said his lawyer Denise Johnston.

"He did give me a note saying he does not want to go to prison. He does not like prison. But that does not seem to impact on his impulsive offending," Ms Johnston said.

"He doesn't think through the consequences of taking these items."

Donovan often had more than enough cash on him to pay for the items he stole, Ms Johnston said.

She urged the judge to consider a fine, arguing that a prison sentence would be "disproportionately harsh" given his age and his health.

"He has difficulties with his breathing due to a breathing disorder, he is significantly deaf, he has dizzy spells, and he has a chronic cough caused by the breathing disorder."

She also asked the judge to consider a head injury Donovan suffered in a car accident in 1990, which she said lessened his criminal culpability. Apart from one theft in 1973, the rest had all been committed after 1990.

Asked by Ms Johnston why he did not let other people shop for him, Donovan answered: "Tell the judge that I promise on my word of honour I will let others do my shopping and I will not shop."

But Judge Doherty was not convinced.

"Despite sentences of community work, supervision and imprisonment, you continue to offend. You promise today that you will not reoffend, yet six days ago you were at it," he said.

"You have some infirmities, but it seems to me none of these are out of the way for someone of your advanced years."

Donovan was denied leave to apply for home detention.

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