Notorious shoplifter dubbed ‘The Hoover Thief’ jailed after spitting in face of policewoman and taunting her with HIV claim

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A serial Swansea shoplifter dubbed “The Hoover Thief” by store staff because of history of stealing such items went on to spit in the face of a policewoman and taunt her about catching HIV, a court has heard.

Mark Johnston assaulted the officer after he was found with a syringe in-hand, about to inject himself with heroin.

Swansea Crown Court heard Johnston is well-known to staff in many shops in the city, and carries out thefts “to order” as well as opportunistic offences.

Sending him to prison, a judge described spitting in a police officer’s face as a “truly appalling thing to do”.

Natasha Davies, prosecuting, said Johnston committed series of eight thefts from shops in Swansea between March and December last year, targeting Pets At Home in Parc Tawe on no less than four occasions and stealing fish tanks with a combined value of £600, cans of beer from the CK branch in Cwmbwrla, a £90 vacuum cleaner from B&M in Parc Tawe and a £70 cleaner from the nearby Lidl, and then bath mats and other household items from Poundstretcher on Oxford Street.

The court heard staff in B&M referred to the defendant as “The Hoover Thief”.

He was identified as the person responsible for the thefts from CCTV footage.

The prosecutor said Johnston was arrested in March this year after police were called to reports of domestic incident at a flat in Jeffrey Court in Penlan, Swansea.

She said officers found the defendant in a bedroom in the property with a syringe in his hand about to inject himself with what turned out to be heroin.

The officers took the needle off him but while they were at the address a heated argument broke out between Johnston and his partner, and it was during this confrontation that the defendant spat in a female officer’s face, the spittle covering her left eye. He then told the policewoman: “I’ve got HIV as well.”

The court heard he was restrained and taken to a waiting police van but continued shouting abuse at the officers.

In her statement the officer Johnston assaulted said she felt “disgusted” and “physically sick” at the spitting, and had been left worried about the health implications of what had happened for her and her family.

Johnston, of Llangyfelach Street, Brynmelin, Swansea, had previously pleaded guilty eight counts of theft, breach of bail – failing to turn up at court for an earlier hearing – possession of heroin, and assaulting an emergency worker when he appeared in the dock for sentencing. He has 16 previous convictions for 36 offences including 18 for theft, four for violence, and two for drugs.

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Dan Griffiths, for Johnston, said at the time of the offending the defendant’s heroin addiction had spiralled out of control. He said that, in time, his client hoped to can address his drug issue but recognised that currently custody was the only option.

The advocate said Johnston recognised that spitting at the officer was a “disgusting and deplorable” thing to do, and he had asked him to formally apologise in open court for his conduct.

Judge Geraint Walters said the reality of the case was that Johnston’s addiction meant the only thing he had been thinking about each day was finding money to get his next fix. He described the defendant as a prolific shoplifter who, it seemed, stole to order as well as stealing on an opportunistic basis.

The judge described the spitting at a police officer who was only doing her job as a “truly appalling thing to do”.

Giving the defendant a one-third discount for his guilty pleas the judge sentenced him to a total of 14 months, of which six months are for the assault on the PC. Johnston will serve up to half that period in custody before being released on licence under the UK government’s early release scheme to serve the remainder in the community.



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