Pensioner tackled thief in bid to retrieve handbag

Plucky 75-year-old tells court of attempt to recover phone containing family photographs

The pensioner’s handbag was snatched in Tesco, Wilton Shopping Centre, Cork. File photograph: Google Street View

The pensioner’s handbag was snatched in Tesco, Wilton Shopping Centre, Cork. File photograph: Google Street View


A plucky 75-year-old pensioner who tackled a thief when he stole her handbag explained that she was trying to get back her phone containing family photographs.

Sheila O’Mahony (75) was in a busy shopping centre and began hitting Philip Murphy over the head with a newspaper when he snatched her bag in Tesco, Wilton Shopping Centre, Cork, on September 15th, 2018. Ms O’Mahony feared her family photographs, stored on her phone, would be lost.

“I just saw my bag going and I automatically ran after him and when I caught him, he kept trying to push me away. But I held on to him and I kept saying, ‘you have my bag’ and he was saying, ‘no, I haven’t’,” said Ms O’Mahony.

“A security man came up behind him and caught him. And this bag with a newspaper fell out from under a coat so I picked it up and kept hitting him on the head while the security man held him and then my handbag fell out.

“I didn’t think anything of it until I got home that evening and I started shaking. But all I wanted was to get my bag back because my phone was in the back with all the photographs of the children,” she added.

Ms O’Mahony was speaking outside Cork Circuit Criminal Court where a jury took just 44 minutes to find Murphy from Orchard Court, Blackpool, in Cork guilty of theft.

The jury had heard evidence how Ms O’Mahony was shopping in Tesco in Wilton on the day in question when Murphy snatched her handbag. But she spotted him and gave chase before confronting him about the theft.

Security man Peter Bezdzinkski came to her assistance and detained Murphy until Garda Michael Harney arrived and arrested Murphy who made no admissions and denied both the theft and assaulting Ms O’Mahony.

After the jury returned a guilty verdict on the theft charge and a not guilty verdict on the assault charge, Det Garda James Bugler told the court that Murphy had a total of 107 previous convictions for a variety of offences.

These include one for robbery, 22 for burglary and 28 for theft, including convictions as recently as April 30th, 2019, when he was convicted of stealing a handbag from a woman wheeling her child in a buggy in the English Market in Cork.

Det Garda Bugler said that Murphy was “a career criminal” who had shown no remorse for the ordeal to which he had subjected Ms O’Mahony whom he described as “ very robust and resilient”.

Defence barrister Peter O’Flynn said his client was a 48-year-old man who lived alone with his mother, who had been abused while in care as a child and had resorted to taking drugs – that catalyst for his offending.

“His story is quite hopeless,” said Mr O’Flynn as he pleaded for leniency and suggested to Judge James McCourt that he might consider structuring a sentence so that there would some incentive for his client to rehabilitate himself.

‘No regard for victim’

The judge said he could not ignore Murphy’s previous convictions and that he committed the theft while on bail for another matter was also an aggravating factor.

“It is quite clear to me that Mr Murphy had no regard for his victim . . . he has shown no remorse, not then, not now, not ever,” said the judge.

The judge added that he was not attaching much importance to Ms O’Mahony having €400 in her bag as he believed it was just as heinous a crime if she had €4 or €4,000 stolen.

He acknowledged it was “a sad case” given Murphy’s background and he was keen to provide a glimmer of hope for him. But he needed to grasp that chance as otherwise he would continue returning to court to face ever longer sentences.

He sentenced Murphy to two years in jail but suspended the last six months on condition he is of good behaviour and engages with the Probation Service when released from the term which is consecutive to nine months he is currently serving.