A sneak thief who caused misery for Christmas shoppers by stealing handbags in Leeds city centre bars has been jailed.
Mario Stojka is also one of the first people in the city to be made the subject of a criminal behaviour order banning him from entering pubs and retail areas in the city centre
Stojka, 24, was sent to prison for two years after a court heard he stole more than £3,000 worth of property by stealing handbags from victims who had “let their guard down” as they enjoyed a break from festive shopping.
Stojka would take bags from the backs of chairs or from the floor as the owners sat nearby.
He was caught on CCTV targeting victims on several occasions at popular city centre venues including the Picture House, Hour Glass, Stick and Twist, Slug and Lettuce, Griffin Hotel and Wetherspoons at Leeds railway station.
He was eventually arrested after being caught caught shoplifting on January 2 this year.
Stojka, of Bellbrooke Place, Harehills pleaded guilty to ten offences of theft and one of attempted theft.
Some of the victims were left devastated after losing mobile phones which contained irreplaceable family photos and important banking details.
John Batchelor, mitigating, said Stojka carried out the offences to fund his drug habit.
Judge James Spencer, QC, said: “You were quite ruthless in what you took.
“Anything that had a value you saw as fair game. Each one of those victims will have suffered immensely at a time when they should be allowed to be happy.”
Inspector Richard Clarke, who heads the City Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “Stojka is a professional thief who specifically preyed on people at city centre venues to steal their handbags and phones. His prolific offending had a huge impact on a large number of victims over a relatively short period of time.
“Many of his victims were targeted in the run-up to Christmas when the loss of their valuables and irreplaceable photos and other important information had an even greater impact on them.
“He was brought to justice for these offences as a result of a comprehensive investigation by officers from the City NPT. Through partnership work under Safer Leeds, we also successfully applied for the city’s second Criminal Behaviour Order which places stringent conditions of him when he is eventually released from prison.
“This order means he is effectively banned from the city centre for five years and will be liable to arrest and further prosecution if he breaches the order.
“This case is an excellent example of how the police and council continue to work in partnership making full use of available legislation to tackle those whose behaviour has an ongoing detrimental impact on the lives of people in the city.
“It is also an opportunity to remind people that unfortunately there are professional thieves are out there targeting city centre venues specifically looking to steal phones left unguarded on tables or in bags left on the floor or hung on the back of chairs.
“We work very closely with businesses, licensees, and doorstaff to prevent these offences and have had some good successes in catching the thieves, but we also need people to do all they can to reduce the opportunities by taking care of their phones and other valuables.”