A pensioner branded Britain’s most prolific shoplifter has walked free from court after claiming his 49-year theft spree was caused by a severe bump on the head he got when he watched England play in the 1970 World Cup.
Harry Hankinson, 70, has clocked up 546 offences since he fell from a hotel balcony whilst watching Alf Ramsey’s team on TV during the tournament in Mexico.
He claims he banged his head in the tumble which caused a ”change in his personality” and turned him into a kleptomaniac with an ”uncontrollable” urge to steal.
Medical tests to determine why he has felt the need to steal everything from designer handbags to packets of meat claim Hankinson has ”organic personality disorder” caused by brain damage.
Over the last five decades he has been in and out of jail over shoplifting expeditions at stores across the UK. During his criminal career, even Hankinson’s own wife spoke out to condemn short prison sentences he was receiving.
In 2008 she was unwittingly caught up in another thieving expedition when she and her husband went to Ripon, North Yorkshire, for a day out by a coach – to celebrate his release from another prison stretch.
In 2014 he was given an ASBO banning him from every shop in his former home town of Bolton. The order also meant he could be asked to leave any shop in Greater Manchester by security staff if they grew suspicious of his behaviour.
On Thursday Hankinson, who currently lives in a care home in Miles Platting, Manchester, was back in court after he was caught stealing £50 worth of food at a Sainsbsurys store in Oldham and £85 worth of spirits from a Aldi store in Ashton-under-Lyne.
But appearing in the dock on crutches he was conditionally discharged for 18 months by magistrates after he claimed he usually gave away most of the items he stole. He admitted two charges of theft.
His lawyer Peter Butler said in mitigation: “You might wonder how somebody has that many convictions – but the back story is it would appear that he fell out of a hotel balcony window in 1970 and suffered a head injury during the World Cup
“His family have stated that his behaviour changed from that point forward. Many assessments have been conducted for kleptomania from his GP and a report states he suffers from mixed personality disorder which makes him emotionally unstable and have anti-social traits.
“The pattern of behaviour indicates organic personality disorder in which victims suffer significant alteration of their behaviour following brain damage and experiencing lack of control and poor planning in addition to poor impulse control.
“It is a cognitive deficit due to his head injury. His behaviour over all these years is explained by the head injury that he suffered at that time.”
Mr Butler added: “He doesn’t commit crimes for his gain there is no drug habit or lavish life style – he more often than not gives the items away.
“His family confirmed that they have noticed him come back from the shops with chocolates and he had then given them out to the residents of the care home where he resides.
”It is an offence that is indicative of a serious trauma that has happened in the past. This is somebody with many previous convictions but has stayed out of trouble since 2015.
“His family have been doing everything they can to assist him – it is something they have to work at day by day.”
Earlier prosecutor Miss Lucy Garside said the two shoplifting incidents occurred on April 20 and May 18 this year.
She said: ”At 8.30am he was seen walking around a Sainsbury’s store selecting some items and places them into the trolley whilst he placed other items directly into a blue suitcase.
”He then transferred the items from his trolley in to the suitcase walked past all points of payments making no attempts to pay for any of the items. Outside the doors security ask him to re-enter and account for the items.
”On the second occasion he entered an Aldi store with an unknown female at 9.20am with a large blue suitcase. A he entered the store the security alarm beeped but he said he had a metal pin in his knee.
“Staff began to monitor him and he was seen to put a number of items in his basket and then moved to a blind spot. After that the items were not in the trolley anymore. He then made his way to the conveyor belt and put some items onto the conveyor, staff asked him about the suitcase and he stated the items inside were from a different store.
“They found four bottles of Aldi alcohol in the suitcase and police were contacted. In the rest of suitcase there were bottles of Martini, Jack Daniels, Champagne – those bottles weren’t actually stolen in Aldi – but the Jack Daniels still had the security tag.
“The defendant didn’t have enough cash on him to pay for items he was found with £35 in cash – the amount that was required was up to £85.15. He has a lengthy list of previous convictions.”
Hankinson was also ordered to pay £87 in costs. He did not comment after the hearing.
The 1970 World Cup won by Brazil was famous for England goalkeeper Gordon Banks’ ”reflex save” from a header by Pele during a group stages match.
It was also infamous over the arrest of captain Bobby Moore in Colombia for allegedly stealing a bracelet from a jeweller’s shop in the so called ”Bogotá Bracelet” incident. The charges were later dropped.