Pensioners and wheelchair user ‘targeted by thief’

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A woman allegedly stole from pensioners and a wheelchair user in a crime spree across parts of Northern Ireland, the High Court has heard.

Rita Miranda-Martin deliberately targeted up to 15 vulnerable victims to carry out purse and money raids at shops and other locations, prosecutors claimed.

Attempts were also made to use debit cards taken as part of the scam, it was alleged.

Miranda-Martin, 45, of Tullyvar Road in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, is accused of stealing hundreds of pounds in cash and other belongings between July and September last year.

Refusing bail, a judge rejected claims that she should be released due to delays in the case.

Mr Justice Burgess was told she faces 15 counts of theft and a further 13 fraud by false representation charges.

Police in Lurgan launched an investigation after a series of suspected thefts and fraud-related offences were reported across the southern area region.

Prosecution counsel James Johnston said Miranda-Martin was identified on CCTV footage, and claimed vulnerable victims were among those deliberately targeted.

“Some of the injured parties were elderly; it involved purses with cash, gift cards and store cards being removed from handbags,” he told the court.

“Contactless and debit cards were then used in close proximity to the original thefts.”

Mr Johnston disclosed that most of the alleged thefts took place in shop locations.

“There’s at least one incident where there’s a person in a wheelchair, a handbag hanging over the back of the wheelchair, and it’s approached by this applicant,” he alleged.

The court heard purses and gift cards suspected of having been stolen were recovered during a search carried out at a house in September.

Miranda-Martin was arrested, shown CCTV footage and made no comment during interviews, according to the prosecution.

Defence counsel stressed she has already spent five months in custody.

But denying bail at this stage, Mr Justice Burgess described the police investigation as relatively complex.

He added: “There’s a strong prima facie case against the applicant of a number of offences perpetrated against members of the public, including vulnerable members of the public.”