Ursula Nevin, 24, of North Lonsdale Street, Stretford, has been dramatically freed, a week after she was jailed for five months after admitting handling stolen goods at Manchester Magistrates Court.
The mum-of-two had slept through the riots, but the day after had tried on and decided to keep a pair of shorts her house-mate Gemma Corbett, also 24, looted from the Vans store in the Northern Quarter.
This afternoon at Manchester Crown Court appeal hearing, Judge Andrew Gilbart QC said Ms Nevin’s stiff sentence had been ‘wrong in principle’ because she had not been at the scene of the disturbances.
Ordering Ms Nevin – who has two sons aged one and five – to do 75 hours unpaid work instead, the judge said she must have felt she had been ‘trapped in a circle of hell’.
Opening the case, Michael Morley said Ms Nevin – who has no previous convictions – had the ‘misfortune’ to have Gemma Corbett as a lodger.
Corbett – jailed for 18-months earlier on Friday – had got out of bed and put on a black hoodie before joining the mayhem on the evening of August 9.
Corbett returned to the address she shared with Ms Nevin with £625 of clothes, footwear and accessories.
The following day, police were tipped off that Corbett had been boasting about the haul and arrested her at the call centre where she worked in Sale.
Corbett confessed to burglary and Ms Nevin later admitted handling a pair of shorts taken in the raid.
Days later, while Corbett was being held on remand, Ms Nevin was jailed by District Judge Khalid Qureshi, who told her she was supposed to be a role model to her children.
Richard Vardon, representing Ms Nevin at the appeal hearing, said the ‘doting’ mum had been put in a terrible position by her housemate – and had been devastated to find herself separated from her children and behind bars.
“She is absolutely disgusted by those who wreaked havoc on this city. She is both ashamed and humiliated by appearing before a crown court”, he said. “Hers has been a very public shame and a very public humiliation indeed. She was offered a pair of shorts which she quite foolishly and dishonestly decided to keep for herself. She’s paid an extremely high price for her limited criminality.”
Quashing Miss Nevin’s jail sentence alongside two magistrates, Judge Gilbart said: “Ursula Nevin did not go into Manchester city centre – we regard it as wrong in principle that she was made the subject of a custodial sentence.”
Ordering her to do unpaid work, he said: “She must pay some penalty because she knew where the goods had come from, we bear in mind that she has had to lose her liberty for a few days – when I say a few I don’t seek to underestimate the great challenge she must have found that, particularly being separated from her children.”
Ms Nevin’s supporters told the MEN: “She’s happy, she does wants to get back to her kids and her family”, before declining to comment further.
Earlier, the court was told that Corbett had got out of bed when she heard people discussing the disturbances in the street.
She put on a black hooded jumper and drove into the city centre with two or three others.
Mr Morley said: “On Church Street she saw the Vans store had already been broken into and at the time police were there standing guard.
“As it happened the police had to move on to another location to deal with other disturbances. When they moved on, she and her accomplices ran into the store.
“She picked up some items, dropped them into the car and then went back into the store.
“She said she did it because she was in debt and planned to sell them for money. She told the police she was disgusted with herself.”
Corbett made off with four pairs of trainers, two pairs of shorts, a rucksack and a bag, totalling £625.
She pleaded guilty at Manchester Magistrates’ Court last week to burglary.
David Toal, defending, said: “She has realised what she has done. The only evidence is that which came from her own mouth.”
He said she had made frank admissions about her guilt at the earliest opportunity, in contrast to a male accomplice who made no comment to the police on the matter.
Corbett had a previous conviction for theft in January 2010, related to a shop where she was working, and was ordered to perform 80 hours of unpaid work.
That offence was committed when she was at a “low ebb” because of relationship problems and the breakdown of her parents’ marriage.
However, she had got her life back on track by living with her friend, Mr Toal added.
“She had got temporary employment… Weeks before this offence she was offered a permanent position.
“It seemed at that moment everything was looking up.
“It all came crashing down on the 9th of August. Her life has now hit rock bottom.
“The only shaft of light this case has brought for her is that her relationship with her mother is even stronger.”
Sentencing her, Judge Gilbart said: “You made two trips to make sure you had enough.
“I regard this as a bad case. This was an expedition into the city centre when you knew the disturbances were under way and involved the looting of shops when the police’s backs were turned.”
He said he was sorry to hear of her personal difficulties but said those with similar problems did not go out and commit crime.
He did say, however, that he was impressed with her “candour” and would keep the sentence at the “very bottom of the range”.
With a range of between two and five years for an offence of this kind, he said he would have jailed her for two years and three months after a trial.
Taking the guilty plea into account, he imprisoned her for 18 months.
Corbett sobbed at the verdict, as did her family in the public gallery.
Before she was led down from the dock, her mother went over to her and said: “Gemma, I love you. Keep strong.”
Another looter, McKenley Pilgrim, 42, of Lloyd Street South, Fallowfield, was jailed for two years and four months after he pleaded guilty to burglary at an earlier hearing.
He was caught on CCTV walking away with a television he had plundered from Cash Generator in Oldham Street in the city centre.
Pilgrim later told police he went on to sell the television for £50 to a passer-by in the street.
The court heard he had a lengthy criminal record with 26 previous court appearances for 52 offences ranging from assaulting a police officer, to harassment and criminal damage.
He had been serving two community orders while committing the burglary