"CUNNING" professional pickpockets who preyed on Worcester's elderly could be deported back to Romania.

Tabita Mihai and Florica Stan carried clipboards while posing as charity workers, hugging their elderly victims while lifting cash from wallets and purses.

Between them they stole £1,470, often without their victims noticing the cash was missing until later. The defendants would split the stolen cash, using it to pay for food, rent, clothing and other bills.

However, Stan stole a further £890, taking Christmas money from a retired woman in Worcester.

The thefts happened between January 11 and January 25 this year, causing what the judge described as 'real trauma' to the victims.

Both women were sentenced at Worcester Crown Court on Thursday, Mihai appearing via videolink from prison and Stan in the dock.

They admitted a string of distraction thefts, some in Worcester and Droitwich.

Recorder Allan Mainds said if he jailed the mothers for more than 12 months they could be deported.

He asked that their papers be brought to the attention of the Home Office and that necessary steps be taken, if appropriate, to send them back to Romania.

Mihai, aged 19, of Ermington Crescent, Birmingham, admitted five thefts and one attempted theft.

Stan, aged 25, also of Ermington Crescent, Birmingham, admitted six thefts and one attempted theft.

Sally Cairns, prosecuting, said Stan alone was involved in the first of the thefts in Worcester on December 1, 2016.

Retired Angela Pearson withdrew £890 from NatWest at The Cross for Christmas presents, putting the cash in an envelope in her handbag.

CCTV from NatWest showed Stan watching Mrs Pearson and following her to Cookmate.

Mrs Pearson even held the door open for Stan as she entered the shop.

Miss Cairns said: "The defendant is shown on CCTV following Mrs Pearson around the shop. Mrs Pearson describes, whilst in that shop, being bumped into quite hard. That was this defendant."

When she returned home, she realised her cash was missing.

Miss Cairns summarised a statement from Mrs Pearson.

She said: "She says how she felt a fool. She felt sullied and affronted. She put the money safely away. She can't believe someone would take it from her.

"She was reluctant to tell her family. It has affected her confidence in that she is much more careful when she goes out and questions her independence."

Another theft happened in Droitwich on January 11 when the pair stole £300 from Barbara Churchill in supermarket Morrisons.

They had clipboards and claimed they were collecting for charity when they hugged her, taking the cash from a purse in the top of her handbag.

On January 22 both women claimed they were collecting for a deaf charity in Worcester when they tried to steal £80 from retired Monica Gardner, who was shopping in the city with her sister.

She spotted one of the women with her hand in her sister's purse.

On January 23 Brian Broadbent had £200 stolen from his wallet in Tamworth. Again, the women were posing as charity workers.

Using the same pretence, they also stole £720 from an 82-year-old man on January 22, and £50 from another victim on January 22.

The pair repeated the scam on January 25, stealing £200 from a man's wallet.

Ranjit Lallie, for Mihai, said his client was a mother-of-two who came to the UK aged 11. She went back to Romania at 15 and returned to the UK when she was 18.

Mr Lallie said Mihai had applications pending for benefits but they had been 'pending for some time'. He told the court she had worked, selling the Big Issue and once had a packaging job.

He added: "She was told about the pickpocketing scam when begging on the streets and initially refused. She became desperate and joined the enterprise."

He said she was genuinely remorseful.

Mohammed Riaz, for Stan, said the mother-of-three had had a difficult upbringing but wanted a proper job and had worked in the past.

He said: "The financial reward for those employments was not sufficient to meet the financial requirements of taking care of the children."

Recorder Mainds described both defendants as 'consummately successful pickpockets'.

He said: "These are serious offences carried out with more than a simple degree of cunning, taking advantage of elderly people on the streets.

"It's clear you are both practised and efficient pickpockets. So accomplished are you at this you are able to part substantial sums of money - substantial as far as the losers are concerned - from them without them realising until afterwards that the money has gone, sometimes from the wallet without the wallet as a whole being taken.

"You were doing this over and over again. It is clear that each of these people suffered real trauma as a result of them having money stolen from them by you."

The judge jailed Stan for 16 months and Mihai for 12 months.

Three further counts of theft against the defendants, which they both denied, will lie on file.