A HEROIN addict who befriended a pensioner, and minutes after he gave her food, stole his watch and some money, will not go to prison.

Chester Crown Court heard on Monday how Jennifer Donlan, aged 34, carried out the callous theft.

Philip Clemo, prosecuting, said Donlan, of Northolt Court, Padgate, went to the home of the 75-year-old man in Fearnhead on September 24 last year.

After talking her way in she cooked herself a microwave meal and then snatched £9 in change from a pot in the house, and his gold watch. THe victim, who lives alone, believed she worked at a housing association.

Mr Clemo said: "They started talking and it became obvious the defendant had been drinking.

"She had a small bottle of vodka.

"She stayed for a time and the talked.

"She went out for some cigarettes.

"She came back and made herself a microwave meal and left."

The victim realised the items were missing and reported the theft.

He later picked out Donlan in an identity parade.

She pleaded guilty to theft from a dwelling.

The defendant, who has numerous previous convictions for similar matters, also pleaded guilty to shoplifting after stealing £30 worth of chocolate from Martin's newsagent on Insall Road in December.

That offence breached a suspended sentence of five months imposed at Halton Magistrates in November last year, again for shoplifting.

Jason Smith, defending, said Donlan had been a heroin user since the age of 14, and stole to pay off drug debts. The court heard she would have faced a nine month prison sentence but 20 weeks in custody and on electronic tag, meant only a further short custodial sentence could be imposed.

Judge Nicholas Woodward said a community order to address her drug addiction, which cannot be passed alongside a prison sentence but only instead of, would better serve public justice.

He said: "You want to change the way you are leading your life.

"If I impose a custodial sentence you will come out with no help.

"For that reason I'm going to impose a community order. "I think it is more likely to lead you to stop offending in the future,"

Donlan will be under supervision for two years, and go on a drug rehabilitation programme for 12 months.