A BURGLAR diagnosed with breast cancer begged for mercy but was told she will have to get her urgent medical treatment behind bars in prison.

Samantha Skipp, who was involved in a pickaxe burglary with her 'career criminal' boyfriend at a family home in Worcester and stole a purse from a volunteer at the city's hospital, was jailed for two years at Worcester Crown Court yesterday.

The 38-year-old's barrister had pleaded with the judge to spare her an immediate jail sentence, telling the court she may need a double mastectomy and certainly surgery and radiotherapy.

Nick Berry, defending, said Skipp was 'terribly vulnerable' and had been the victim of abuse and 'cuckooing', when a dealer sets up his business in someone's home.

However, Judge Robert Juckes QC said only in 'highly exceptional' cases could the court be persuaded to pass a non-custodial sentence and this was not such a case.

Skipp, previously of Mealcheapen Street in Worcester but who had been homeless, was involved in a burglary in the city's Newtown Road with her boyfriend, Michael Repton, on May 11 this year when the householders were disturbed by the sound of breaking glass.

Repton, 33, of no fixed abode, was jailed for three years for three burglaries, handling stolen goods, three frauds, possession of a controlled drug of class A (heroin) and possession of a controlled article for use in a fraud.

Marc Davies, prosecuting, said the householders were disturbed at 2.30am and came downstairs shouting 'who's there?'

They could hear more than one person and heard footsteps on the broken glass. They noticed keys from the house, later recovered, had been stolen. The damage to the glass in the porch cost £200 to repair.

Both Skipp and Repton were arrested a short distance from the house. The wooden pickaxe handle, believed to have been used to smash the glass, was found in a bush at the bottom of the garden.

Skipp stole a purse containing £45 from the handbag of a volunteer from behind her desk at Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester on May 8.

Mr Davies said Skipp had been at the hospital suffering from a suspected overdose, had been treated but discharged herself against medical advice. It was 'obvious' to the volunteer that Skipp was 'unwell or under the influence of something and sat her down'.

When the volunteer returned, she noticed her bag had been interfered with and her purse removed. The defendant, on bail at the time, had been observed crawling under the desk and later bought herself a coffee from the hospital's cafe. However, she was challenged and arrested.

On June 13 she attempted to steal two bottles of alcohol from Morrisons in Worcester and gave a false name to police.

On June 19 into June 20 in Swinyard Road, Malvern, she interfered with two vehicles and stole a purse containing £5 from the door pocket. One of the owners said it seemed that someone had been sleeping in their car.

Nick Berry, defending, said: "She left previous council accommodation following a breakdown after being violently abused by her then partner who had cuckooed the property to run a drugs operation."

Mr Berry described her current partner, Repton, as a 'professional career criminal' and said Skipp had now been diagnosed with breast cancer and required urgent surgery and radiotherapy.

He told the judge she required a mastectomy of the right breast but was awaiting the result of a test which may mean she needs a double mastectomy, referring to her medical circumstances as 'so desperately serious'.

"Her past is just appalling to listen to," said Mr Berry. He asked the judge to draw back from a imposing an immediate custodial sentence and 'allow her to receive this urgent medical treatment, not in a prison cell'.

Judge Juckes said medical treatment was available to people in prison and told Skipp she represented 'a very poor risk for a non-custodial sentence' and that such a sentence would be 'understandably subject to criticism from those who have suffered as a result of dishonesty and it's not even likely it would pay off'.

Although the starting point was three years for the burglary, the judge gave Skipp credit for her guilty plea and reduced the sentence to two years.

He told her he did not accept for a minute that she 'didn't know what was happening' during the burglary but did accept that she 'fell under the influence of a very much more experienced criminal'.

The total sentence was two years in prison, with concurrent jail terms for all other matters.