A MUGGER attacked a 94-year-old walking with a stick and grabbed her shopping bags – escaping with her ready-meal dinner, some biscuits and a chocolate bar.

Joseph Swan blamed an allergic reaction to his anxiety medication and begged a judge for mercy, saying: "I'm not a bad lad. Prison at the moment is a bad place to be."

The 36-year-old insisted he had turned around his life after serving sentences for robbery and attempted robbery, and said: "If I didn't take those tablets, I don't think this would have happened.

"I feel like I have been let down by the doctors. I went there for help, and now I'm back in prison with my anxiety and depression even worse."

Speaking over a live video-link from Holme House Prison, Stockton, to Teesside Crown Court, Swan went on: "I'm on my knees, judge. I'm begging you to be lenient."

Judge Sean Morris heard how the victim valued her independence and loved getting out and about for exercise and to meet people – but is now afraid to leave her home.

It was also revealed that Swan's earlier robbery victim was a 79-year-old walking with a crutch who had just collected her pension from the post office, and two years later it was a lone female worker at a betting shop.

He deemed Swan a dangerous offender and passed an extended sentence for public protection, telling him: "I have listened to you read your letter. Like most letters, it is 'me, me me'.

"It is important you understand I have not increased your sentence for that lengthy and selfish diatribe."

Swan struck on a February afternoon when the infirm widow had got off a bus at the Belle Vue shops in Middlesbrough – knocking her to the ground and escaping with her bag, which contained a bus pass, bank cards and £55 as well as the liver and onions meal, biscuits and bar of Galaxy.

His victim said in an impact statement: "It was the first day I had been out of my house for a lengthy period due to my health and weather conditions.

"At my age, my independence is very important and he has taken that away from me for no real gain for himself."

Swan, of Park Road South, Middlesbrough, admitted robbery and was given a custodial sentence of eight years with four years extended licence after his release.

Judge Morris told him: "It was a wicked and evil crime. It must have changed her world.

"As a young girl, she would have lived through the war and seen horrendous things, no doubt, and lost people and knew people who had lost loved ones.

"she has lived through hard times and here she is in the evening of her life too scared now to leave her own home."

Robert Mochrie, mitigating, admitted the attack was cowardly, and Swan – who had been working at a biscuit factory since his last jail release – "had been trying desperately to live a law-abiding life".

He asked the judge if Swan could read out his letter, and the mugger started off saying: "I'd like to say a massive sorry to the woman. I am absolutely devastated over it. It is the first thing I think about when I wake up, and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep – if I can get to sleep.

"I really thought I had turned the corner. I was going to work each day, and I had my own money in my pocket for once and I was helping my mother out.

"I was getting paid the next day when the robbery was committed. I just can't believe I have done it.

"I was allergic to the medication and the side-effects were scary - it felt like I was on LSD, which I took when I was younger. I was paranoid and seeing things that were not there.

"When I found out I had done this, I told my dad to pay the woman the £55 straight away."

Swan was jailed for 18 months in 2013 for snatching money from a pensioner who had just undergone knee replacement surgery and was using a crutch.

Shortly after being released, he went to Ladbrokes on Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough, with a metal bar in a rucksack, and told the cashier: "Fill up the bag. I'm not going to hurt you love, but can you fill the bag."

He was jailed for four years after he admitted attempted robbery, and was released from that sentence in May last year.