A PENSIONER who had her £24,000 life savings snatched in a mugging got most of it back - after two different thieves overlooked the bundles of cash.

Burly robber Marek Olszewski swiped the 74-year-old's bag after seeing her with a bundle of notes in a Darlington bookmakers.

He dumped the plastic carrier in woods once he had taken a purse containing £4,000, Teesside Crown Court was told yesterday (Monday).

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What the 34-year-old factory worker did not know was that there was a further £20,000 wrapped in tea towels inside the bag.

Days later, someone else stumbled across the discarded loot and took jewellery after rifling through it - but again missed the money.

Police last night told of the "remarkable" case, but revealed how the victim has been left terrified and wanting to leave the country.

The petite mother-of-five is afraid to go out in the dark, and described in a statement how she is "anxious, worried and lonely".

Six-foot production line worker Olszewski was jailed for four years and appeared emotional in the dock as details of his November 22 crime were revealed in court.

The judge described them as "a mismatch" and told Olszewski: "The impact of this offending has affected her greatly."

Jim Withyman, mitigating, said he needed money to go to Poland to see his ill father after a mercy call from his mother.

The judge, Recorder Richard Woolfall, told Olszewski: "This is a serious offence because you targeted a vulnerable lady."

The court heard how the woman - widowed just five weeks earlier - had gone into a town centre bookmakers to place a £100 bet. Olszewski saw her take her stake from a huge bundle of notes and followed her outside and onto a bus on Tubwell Row.

Prosecutor, Harry Hadfield, said he got off at the same stop several miles away, and struggled to snatch her bag.

Witnesses later told police of a dramatic tug-of-war as the plucky pensioner desperately tried to cling onto her valuables.

One said she was dragged across the road as she refused to let Olszewski take her bag, Mr Hadfield told the court.

The victim was left with bruising and cuts to her arm, and still suffers from headaches and pain her shoulder and knee.

In her statement, she says: "I find it difficult to sleep at night and the slightest noise frightens me."

She added: "I feel anxious, worried and lonely, I dare not go out in the dark any more. I'm frightened, especially when I get off a bus."

After the attack, police found CCTV footage of the suspect from the bus and bookies, and put "most wanted" posters in nearby shops.

Within an hour of the displays going up, people had called to name Olszewski and tell detectives where he worked.

He was arrested at the Husqvarna factory in nearby Newton Aycliffe wearing the same jacket seen on the CCTV pictures.

Mr Hadfield told the court that he was upset, and asked Detective Constable Mick Trodden: "How did you find me?"

After the hearing, the detective told The Northern Echo: "This was a truly remarkable case which has left the victim terrified.

"The impact on her has been profound. The fact that two people intent on being dishonest missed the main prize is amazing."

Detective Sergeant Andy Crowe added: "Within an hour of putting the posters up with his face on, we had his name.

"We solved this crime with the help of the community. The community spirit has been second to none, and we'd like to thank them."

The court heard that Olszewski was desperate for cash after his mother called him to say his father was seriously ill.

Mr Withyman said he used the money he took to pay for a return flight to Warsaw and for his father's medical treatment.

He said: "His father was very poorly back in Poland and he didn't have the money. That forced him to act in this way.

"His mother said 'please come back as quickly as possible' so he was looking for quick money.

"He realises the irony that it was an elderly lady he took the money from. He accepts he was not thinking properly and acting out of character.

"He wishes to apologise to the victim and to the court. He is greatly embarrassed for what he has done. He realises how awful it was."

The court heard how Olszewski followed the victim onto the bus, and struck within seconds of her getting off.

After taking the purse, he threw away the bag in trees close to Darlington Golf Club, Mr Hadfield told the court.

Later, another man found the bags and took two bracelets - described as "keepsakes" by the prosecutor - but overlooked the cash.

Police traced the second man through a pawnbrokers where he cashed in the jewellery, and they were led to the bag.

The victim says in her statement that she is glad the belonging and the bulk of her money has been found.

She explained that she was still grieving the death of her husband, and the cash was to pay for the education of her grandchildren.

Mr Recorder Woolfall said: "That is money you used to pay for your flight back to Poland and for medical treatment for your father.

"Your family must have been mortified to have learned how you managed to have returned home and pay for your father's care.

"It is clear she was of some age, and you were much bigger and stronger than her . . . it was quite a mis-match.

"It is clear from your behaviour in the dock that your remorse is genuine. Your good character indicates this was wholly out of character."

Olszewski, of Station Road, Darlington, admitted a charge of robbery, and now faces deportation.