A serial shoplifter who plagued staff at two branches of the Co-op produced a knife when challenged at one of the stores, a court heard.

Katrina Naisbitt was said to have "brazenly" struck at the Co-op in Easington Colliery up to 20 times per week and also stole from the store chain’s Murton branch.

Durham Crown Court heard she would place items in a bag or a basket and simply walk from the premises without paying, despite interventions at times from other customers and staff.

Martin Towers, prosecuting, told the court that if approached by staff she would tell them: “You can’t f***ing touch me”, before running off, often grabbing a further item from a display on her way out.

Her shoplifting trips were made in contravention of a ban from the premises, but she did not let that deter her, sometimes returning on more than one occasion per day.

The court heard she ran up an unpaid bill of more than £2,000 from her thefts over the course of a few weeks from September into October, just at the Easington Colliery branch.

The Northern Echo: Serial shoplifter Katrina Naisbitt 'plagued' staff at the Easington Colliery branch of the Co-op

When a manager was told of her presence on October 22 he approached her and told her to leave and that she was not permitted to enter the store, she threw her bag to the floor, sending bars of confectionery she intended to steal across the aisle, before leaving with a packet of baby formula.

She returned later that day and was, again, told she was not allowed in, but Naisbitt carried on placing items in her bag.

The manager followed her and she dropped something to the floor, which she picked up, and when he approached he could see it was a 12in-long stainless steel knife, described by police as a steak knife.

Holding it with the blade pointing upwards, she told the manager: “I dare you”.

Mr Towers said the manager informed colleagues she was in possession of a knife and Naisbitt ran to the front of the store and left via the main doors.

A police officer called to the store stopped her outside and found two knives in her bag.

In a business impact statement, the manager stated that Naisbitt was, “a constant source of work-related stress”, and, “a constant menace”.

He said the staff were often anxious and on edge in case she entered the premises.

Mr Towers said despite the incident with the knife, Naisbitt returned to the shop two days later, stealing £60-worth of detergent.

She told staff: “You won't see me now”, referencing the incident two days earlier.

Naisbitt went on to steal detergent worth £49 and laundry products valued at £62 from the Co-op in Murton, on October 25, after which she was arrested, again.

A team leader at the Co-op in Murton said they had seen “a significant rise in shoplifting”, impacting the staff and the store in general.

She said it was, “staggering” how much had been lost and staff were anxious at what shoplifters might do in their desperation if confronted.

Mr Towers said she also spoke of her “anger and frustration” that the courts kept letting Naisbitt go free, leading to her continued thieving.

Naisbitt, 47, of Avon Street, Easington Colliery, admitted 32 charges of shop theft and two of possession of a knife in public.

The court heard she has 80 convictions, 59 for theft and similar offending, but has served previous prison sentences for conspiracy to supply drugs, intimidation, battery and knife possession.

Tony Davis, in mitigation, said he and the defendant had to concede it would be, "an inevitable prison sentence”.

Mr Davis said: “She's a recidivist offender, hopelessly addicted to heroin and crack cocaine.

“It explains it, but doesn’t excuse it, particularly at that location.

“She was assisted by Human Kind (an agency addressing drug misuse) at one stage, but due to her chaotic lifestyle she struggled to maintain engagement with that.

“While in custody she has been visited by a specialist police officer who has persuaded her to engage with him at the conclusion of the inevitable custodial sentence.

“She assures me she intends to engage after a period of sustained abstinence which will require resolve on her behalf.”

Judge Jo Kidd said Naisbitt was “very lucky” not to have been charged with the more serious charge of making threats with the knife.

The judge told the defendant: “These offences were against a background of a terrible record in circumstances where you have frequently been before the courts, no doubt for offences to fund your extensive drug habit.

“You mercilessly targeted the Easington Co-op, up to 20 times a week.

“You have no fear and no sense of deterrence by virtue of previous offences.

“You were brazen, walking past shop workers saying: ‘You can’t touch me’.

“It culminated, on October 22, with you, on being found, yet again, at the Co-op at Easington, producing a knife.”

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Judge Kidd said it caused a risk to the staff, in particular, and the store, in general.

Imposing a total 30-month prison sentence, Judge Kidd said if Naisbitt commits further offences on her release on licence at the mid-point, she will be at risk of going straight back behind bars.

She added: “I sincerely hope the staff members who have been plagued by you feel some sense of safety from you for a period of time.”