A HOMELESS bag snatcher who targeted elderly and vulnerable women has been jailed for 45 months.

Judge Simon Medland QC described 19-year-old Wesley Aaron Powell, who went on a 24-hour robbery spree in Accrington and Brierfield, as dangerous but opted against imposing an extended sentence.

Prosecuting, David Traynor said that at 3.45pm on October 24, 2018, 74-year-old Joan Bruce was walking alone in Washington Street, Accrington, when she was approached by Powell who asked her if she had a spare cigarette.

She said no and only managed to walk another 75 yards before feeling her handbag being ripped away. Mrs Bruce set off after him, shouting: "Stop him."

That chase was unsuccessful by Mrs Bruce did find her handbag, which had been emptied of a purse containing £10.

In her victim impact statement Mrs Bruce said she now fears walking alone and now goes out with a panic alarm.

Mr Traynor said that at 9.20pm Ann Longden was in Windsor Street, Accrington, when she heard someone running up behind her. She felt a tug on her handbag over her left shoulder and fell in the struggle.

While she shouted for help, Powell ran away leaving Mrs Longden with an injured hip.

In her victim impact statement Mrs Longden said the robbery had taken away her independence and she had started having panic attacks.

At 3.30pm the following day 65-year-old Pauline Gowers and Patricia Barret, who is in her 80s, were walking arm in arm in Belgarth Road, Accrington, when they both suddenly fell. Although unclear what happened Mrs Gowers said she saw Powell running away with her handbag, which had been over her shoulder.

She immediately felt pain in her hip, and Mrs Barret, who had only recently lost her husband, was bleeding from the nose.

In her victim impact statement Mrs Barret said the incident still haunts her, while Mrs Gowers felt scared on her own and changed the locks on her front door.

Mr Traynor said 77-year-old Norma Stevenson was walking her dog in Foster Street, Accrington, on August 25 when she felt her handbag being dragged out of her left hand. As she turned to face Powell he punched her in the chest, causing her to stumble against a wall which winded her.

She shouted at Powell that there was nothing in the bag for him. He threw the bag into a bin, before running off.

Mr Traynor said that on the same day 46-year-old Ann Hartley, who is disabled, was in Sultan Street, Accrington, when the defendant began swearing at her and asking what she was looking at.

She put a carrier bag containing her purse to her chest. Powell attempted to grab it, but she managed to get away from him.

At 6.50pm 18-year-old Jennifer Walker was walking with her friend in Dowry Street, when they saw the defendant running behind them wearing a balaclava.

Powell grabbed Miss Walker's handbag and she responded by clutching it with both hands.

He turned his attention to Miss Walker's friend, who banged on a neighbour's door for help. Powell grabbed her hair and put his hands around her neck, but she managed to escape to Burnley Road.

Miss Walker said the incident left her sick and shaken, while her friend said she had vomited after the incident.

Mr Traynor said it was CCTV enquiries led to the identification and arrest of Powell. However, because the CCTV only showed Powell in the vicinity of where the robberies took place – not actually committing the crimes – and and many of the victims were unable to identify him, he was released under investigation.

At 5.10pm on March 2, 2019, Bushra Begum was behind the counter of the Azad Convenience Store in Brierfield when Powell came in and shook her hand. He asked for cigarettes and then asked to see a knife display, which was in a cabinet next to the till.

When Mrs Begum got a small knife from the display, Powell asked if he could buy it and would the police 'get him' if he was caught with it.

After being told it would cost £1 and he would have to be over-18 to buy it, Powell asked if he could pay by card.

After leaving without buying the knife, Powell returned a short time later picked up a charity box, which was on the counter, and held it above his head as if he was going to hit Mrs Begum.

He said: "Open the till or I'm going to hit you with this."

She refused and shouted for her son. Powell then picked up a second charity box and stole it.

One of Mrs Begum's son's friends saw Powell enter a nearby house, where he was subsequently arrested.

He was released by police for a second time.

Nine days later Stephen Grant, who was selling his £200 bike on Facebook, was contacted by Powell who said he was interested in buying it. Mr Grant drove to a car park in Colne to complete the transaction. As the victim had hold of the bike, Powell pushed Mr Grant, knocking him off balance and rode off.

Powell, last of Leeds Road, Nelson, who has no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to several robberies, attempted robberies and theft.

Defending, Mark Stuart said Powell, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was mainly brought up by his auntie but after she struggled to control him he was placed in care at 15.

After being moved from pillar to post over the next two years, Powell ended up isolated and sleeping in a bus shelter in Brierfield as a 17-year-old, robbing his victims to fund his cannabis addiction.