A DISTRACTION thief who targeted OAPs to steal from their handbags was caught out when a keen-eyed bystander convinced him to pose for a selfie.

Titus Jalea, 64, squirted a pensioner with ketchup and told him he was bleeding, in order to distract him and steal his bank book.

He also followed an 89-year-old woman home from the bank and stole £500 from her on her own doorstep, and stole £100 from a 92-year-old woman as she did her weekly shop.

In May and June this year Jalea stole from eight pensioners in Blackburn and Accrington, following them from the bank and dipping into their handbags.

Now the former bricklayer of Barnes Street, Church, has been jailed for two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to seven counts of theft and an attempted theft at Preston Crown Court.

Sentencing him, Judge Heather Lloyd said: “You are, and always have been, a thoroughly dishonest man.”

On June 6, Jalea was questioned by police in connection with a theft and an attempted theft from the Northcote Cafe in Blackburn Cathedral.

Within hours of being released on bail the prolific thief was at Accrington Food Festival, once again stealing from handbags.

Two sisters who were enjoying the festival at the town hall discovered they had had £30 and £40 stolen from their handbags.

But Paul Barton, who was also at the festival had spotted ‘a suspicious-looking man’ and decided to act

Daniel Prowse, prosecuting, said: “Paul Barton walked up to the man and asked him for a selfie.

“Eventually this defendant reluctantly agreed to have his picture taken.”

When Mr Barton showed the photograph to neighbourhood police officers, they recognised Jalea as the man who was suspected of the previous offences, and he was arrested.

He pleaded guilty to seven counts of theft and an attempted theft.

Jalea wept in the dock as Claire Renton, defending, told the court since the offences two of his children had been killed in a car crash in Romania and he now wanted to return to the country to be with his family.

Judge Lloyd said: “You only returned to the UK in February and in the few months that you have been back you have committed these eight offences.

“These eight offences were planned and quite deliberate and mean.

“You targeted elderly men and women. Your offences took place in different parts of East Lancashire.

“The offence (at the bus station) was particularly well planned. You took equipment with you, if I can call tomato sauce equipment, to enable you to steal.”

The judge said she understood Jalea had been through a personal tragedy and was grieving, but added: “Whether this life-changing event will change your inherently dishonest nature, only time will tell.”

Proceedings are now in place to extradite Jalea to Romania where he will serve his sentence.