herald

Monday 19 August 2019

Prolific criminal is given 'one last chance' after conviction number 648

Jennifer Armstrong (44) was given a one-month suspended sentence after a ‘record’ 648 convictions
Jennifer Armstrong (44) was given a one-month suspended sentence after a ‘record’ 648 convictions

One of Ireland's most prolific petty criminals has walked free on a suspended sentence after racking up conviction number 648.

Serial thief and public order nuisance Jennifer Armstrong (44), who has one of the longest criminal records ever seen in this country, was arrested for shoplifting wine just two days after she was released from a 16-month prison sentence.

Among her staggering litany of past offences, described as an Irish "record", Armstrong has been convicted over the years for assault, as well as stealing from and harassing the public around Dublin city centre.

Homeless

Judge Carol Anne Coolican spared her jail for her latest offence, giving her a one-month suspended sentence after Armstrong begged for "one last chance".

Armstrong, a homeless alcoholic who has spent 27 years in total in jail, pleaded guilty to theft and public drunkenness.

Garda Sergeant Paul Keane said the accused went to Tesco on Rathmines Road Upper at 5.42pm on July 8.

Security had detained Armstrong after she stole an €8 bottle of wine from the off-licence area. She had been stopped when they saw her placing the bottle under her jumper before trying to leave.

She was "very intoxicated" at the time and was arrested.

Of Armstrong's 647 previous convictions, one of the longest records ever seen in an Irish court, 88 were for theft and 216 were for public intoxication.

Armstrong had fallen on hard times and had tried in the past to get her life back on track.

She wanted to do so and become a "useful member of society", her barrister said.

The accused had been released from a 16-month sentence on Saturday, July 6, two days before her arrest, and was "effectively sent back where she came from".

"She goes out on the street and turns down the only avenue she knows," her barrister said.

Armstrong told the judge she had no money when she left jail and "I still haven't been paid".

"I was thrown out on the streets after serving 16 months," she said, adding that she was staying in a city centre hostel and "I had to find that myself".

Her lawyer said: "Could you give her one last chance? She knows it's make or break time."

Judge Coolican said Armstrong said she had no money "yet she was intoxicated".

A probation officer carried out an immediate assessment and told the court Armstrong would be suitable for day programmes leading up to residential care.

An addiction and rehabilitation support service would offer her accommodation under a strict structured regime and she had already been referred to that, the probation officer said.

The judge asked Armstrong if she would engage with the support service.

"That is what I want, your honour," she replied.

Tragic

Sgt Keane objected to bail based on Armstrong's warrant history.

Armstrong said: "I never had a chance of anything like this in all them times."

Instead of adjourning the case for further reports, Judge Coolican suspended the sentence for six months.

Previously, the court has heard Armstrong had had a "tragic" life and had been in a "vicious circle" of horrendous poverty and substance abuse. She was previously addicted to heroin and cocaine and though she "miraculously" managed to get off both drugs, she developed an alcohol problem.

Judge David McHugh noted on an earlier date that Armstrong's list of previous offences was "a record".

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