A FRAUDSTER was back in court where she admitted slashing bedding in order to claim dodgy refunds.

Patricia Phillips targeted Tesco stores across Sussex by claiming refunds for items she had never bought.

It involved her going into a shop such as Tesco Extra in Shoreham, taking bedding off the shelves, slashing it or damaging it inside packaging, then taking it to a customer service desk to claim cash as if she had purchased a faulty item.

At Lewes Crown Court it was revealed she has a 25-year career in making similar dodgy claims.

One spree included her claiming £5,000 in bogus refunds from underwear retailer Victoria’s Secrets at Bluewater.

It was revealed Phillips is “known to courts across Southern England” over her “brazen dishonesty”.

She admitted criminal damage and fraud relating to Tesco stores at Shoreham, Eastbourne, Lewes, Eastbourne again, and Crawley between May 2 and May 21 last year.

Lewes Crown Court.

Lewes Crown Court.

She also scammed the Next store in Basildon, Essex on August 11, and The White Company at Bluewater on August 15.

But Phillips, of Blackmore Road, Hook End, Brentwood, was spared a prison sentence, despite the fact her latest crime spree put her in breach of two suspended sentences.

His Honour Judge Mark Van Der Zwart said Phillips has suffered from post-traumatic stress from distressing incidents, and said this has been behind her criminal behaviour.

Instead he ordered her to undergo mental health treatment for two years.

Sophie Evans, prosecuting, said the latest incidents happened last year, costing Tesco £625, Next £575, and The White Company £920.

Natasha Dardashti, defending, said her client’s finances were “dire” and said she is in mortgage arrears.

According to Zoopla her property is worth between £519,000 and £574,000.

She has been a prominent director of an agency supporting women who have suffered domestic violence, and would often commit her crime sprees after visiting clients, the court heard.

Refund fraudster Patricia Phillips targeted Tesco stores in Sussex, Next in Basildon, and The White Company at Bluewater shopping centre

Refund fraudster Patricia Phillips targeted Tesco stores in Sussex, Next in Basildon, and The White Company at Bluewater shopping centre

Addressing her, the judge said: “In May 2020 you went into stores and took items from the shelves, often bedding and such like, which you would take to the store staff and immediately pretend that you had purchased yourself.

“On some occasions you were damaging the packaging to make it look more realistic and sometimes you succeeded.”

The judge said Phillips used as many as 18 aliases, including giving herself the title “doctor” to seem trustworthy and said she did not want to have to travel all the way home only to return.

The Tesco store at the Holmbush Centre in Shoreham

The Tesco store at the Holmbush Centre in Shoreham

Her case was “truly exceptional and unusual” the judge said, and said her first offence took place when she was aged 35 in 1996.

“You have been truly prolific and have appeared regularly in courts throughout Southern England,” the judge said. “It has almost always been for entering stores, purporting to members of staff you had purchased items and had a legitimate reason to seek a refund.

“But it was all a lie. You had taken those items straight from the shelves and damaged them to make the deceptions look more convincing. These offences are brazen in their dishonesty.

“You present yourself as an unlikely thief, but that is precisely what you are.”

Bluewater Shopping Centre

Bluewater Shopping Centre

The judge said many people would expect Phillips to be sent to prison, but said her offending was not linked to drugs.

“Plainly there is something abnormal about your behaviour,” the judge said. “A psychiatric report shows you have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Many people might not believe you. But if even half of the things you have said are true, I’m confident that most right-thinking people would agree that is not surprising you have post-traumatic stress.

“People will say what this defendant needs is punishment. But I am satisfied that the thing she needs more than anything else is medical treatment.”

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