A drug addicted thief stole a “lifeline” mobile phone from a disabled man who relied on the device to communicate - but returned it after a Facebook appeal pricked his conscience.
Leeds Crown Court heard the victim, Siraaj Badat, 30, suffers from a degenerative disorder which affects his mobility and speech.
His ability to communicate orally is limited to whispers and he uses his phone to text his family and friends and to tell people his day-to-day needs.
“It was in effect his voice”, Chris Smith prosecuting, told the court.
At about 2pm on October 20 last year, Mr Badat was walking in Oxford Street, Batley when Sufyaan Abed approached him.
Mr Smith said Abed must have been aware of his difficulties but “that did not stop the defendant placing his hand inside the pocket of the victim and removing his mobile phone.”
Mr Badat was not able to stop him and arrived at his mother’s home scared and upset at the loss of his £500 phone. He had suffered depression as a result.
The court heard that when the theft became known, a local DJ known to the family made a video about the effect of the loss on Mr Badat and his desperation to get it back.
He put that on Facebook and an arrangement was then made to return the phone.
Anastasis Tassou, representing Abed, said he was disgusted at his own actions.
When he learnt of the effect on Mr Badat, he arranged for the phone to be returned.
He also reimbursed his victim’s family £50 they had paid to a go-between to return the item.
Mr Tassou said Abed had never been in trouble until he started taking drugs in his 30s and became addicted.
That had led to a conviction and jail sentence for stealing from his family.
On his release, he still owed £1,000 to his dealer and it was in a bid to raise that cash he stole the phone. That debt had now been cleared by him working for his family, with his wages being used to pay what he owed.
He was now physically in a better position working and off drugs.
“He did everything he could to remedy the situation when he realised the extent of this complainant’s disabilities and that the telephone represented a lifeline for him,” the court heard.
Abed, 35 of Follingworth Road, Batley admitted the theft.
Jailing him for eight months, Judge Sally Cahill QC said it was an “absolutely despicable offence.”
She said when the phone was taken the complainant, who suffers complex muscular, mobility and speech problems, could no longer properly communicate.
She said a jail sentence, depsite his counsel’s pleas. “Vulnerable victims walking in the middle of the afternoon on a street should be the subject of proper protection from these courts so that those who choose to take their possessions will understand custody will be immediate,” the judge said.