A KNIFE-wielding thief who was bravely tackled and disarmed by shop staff has been handed a suspended jail sentence.

Andrea Blakeburn brandished the knife when she was confronted over the theft of clothing and other items from Darlington’s Matalan store on Neasham Road.

Prosecuting at Teesside Crown Court, David Crook said Blakeburn had helped herself to clothing worth £135 and left the store without paying. He said the items were still on hangers.

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When she was challenged the 48-year-old swore at staff and said: “Don’t come near or I will knife you.”

Staff backed off, but continued to follow Blakeburn along surrounding streets. When she was distracted one staff member crept up behind her and “bravely” disarmed her of the knife, Mr Crook said.

The court heard how Blakeburn, of Pateley Moor Crescent, Darlington, who admitted theft, possession of a bladed article and threatening behaviour on May 13 this year, had previously been jailed for benefit fraud.

A day after that sentence her partner died and she eventually fell into a downward spiral of more and more offending.

A pre-sentence report on Blakeburn suggested any risk she posed could be managed within the community without the need for a prison sentence and also said her health problems could be assessed and controlled better this way.

She had already spent two months on remand while awaiting the conclusion of her case.

Judge Michael Slater said what he found most troubling about Blakeburn’s criminal record was the knife possession.

He said: “You are a shoplifter, you’re being arrested while in drink.

This is a potentially volatile combination and sooner or later somebody is going to get hurt.”

The judge suspended a six month jail sentence on Blakeburn for two years and also made her subject to a supervision order.