A shoplifter with 56 previous convictions who pleaded guilty to stealing €69 worth of groceries in the run-up to Christmas was fined just a fiver in the District Court this week (March 14 ), when the judge discovered the defendant was a 35-year-old mother of 12.
“I’m one of 13, so I know what it’s like,” empathised Judge Seamus Hughes to Patricia McDonnell (35 ), of Moy Close, Ballymahon, Co Longford who was appearing in court after being apprehended at Dunnes Stores, Irishtown, Athlone on December 10.
All the items taken were recovered, Inspector Nicholas Farrell confirmed to the court, and of McDonnell’s 56 previous convictions dating back to 1994, 41 of them were for theft.
Mr Padraig Quinn, solicitor for McDonnell, told the court that the offence occurred just four days after the birth of her youngest child, and that her family were presently living under an eviction order from their privately rented accommodation.
Judge Hughes asked about this, and discovered the family was served with an eviction notice on February 28 after the house was vandalised, three cars burnt out and a number of her children assaulted in a series of feud-related incidents.
She also admitted her husband, whom Judge Hughes recognised, was due up before him in Longford next week on criminal damage and arson charges.
Addressing the slight defendant, Judge Hughes asked: “Did you ever think you might be eligible for the Guinness Book of Records? If a photo was taken for the daily papers with a picture of this 35-year-old woman, guess how many children she has?” mused Judge Hughes, who himself is no stranger to said book, achieving his entry in 1984 when he completed the Dublin City Marathon with seven of his brothers.
“There was no cheating along the way? No twins?” smiled the judge.
“No, judge. All one at a time,” said McDonnell.
“Will you go for the baker’s dozen?” asked the judge.
“We might even go one further,” replied the defendant.
“Well, I don’t want to encourage you,” said the judge.
“Have you €5 on you?” he asked of the defendant, returning to the business of the day, and McDonnell paid this in change as penalty for her 57th conviction.