AN elderly man was knocked to the ground by a thief as he fled with a stack of cigarettes from a Runcorn store, Warrington Crown Court heard yesterday.

Prolific shoplifter Stephen Burrows, aged 34, barged into the gentleman so hard, the fall severed the pensioner’s leg.

The 78-year-old victim, William Whittaker, suffered a broken femur and had to have surgery.

Prosecutor James Coutts said Burrows went into the Co-op in Grangeway at 3pm on Tuesday, December 11, 2012, and asked an assistant if she sold the biggest bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey.

He left saying he would have to speak to his girlfriend outside.

Five minutes later, Burrows returned and stole a large quantity of cigarettes.

As he fled, he rammed into the pensioner who was coming into the shop.

CCTV footage played in court captured Burrows making his getaway.

Mr Coutts said: “Mr Whittaker felt pain in his leg and was taken to Whiston Hospital.The severity of the break required an operation. He had to have a metal rod inserted into his leg.”

He spent Christmas in hospital and wasn’t discharged until December 28.

He said Mr Whittaker died in August, 2013, after a long battle against lung cancer, but had made a victim impact statement.

He had belonged to a rambling group and used to walk nine miles in the countryside every other week. He had to cancel his club membership as the injury left him with a limp and only able to walk short distances.

Burrows, of Tarbock Road, Liverpool, admitted theft and a section 20 assault, causing grevious bodily harm.

He has 26 convictions for 50 offences and had breached a suspended sentence for an earlier shoplifting offence.

Defending, Tony Rose said prolific offender Burrows’ life “had changed dramatically”.

Mr Rose said: “He has not been in trouble since this matter. His partner who has schizophrenia has been in a psychiatric hospital.

“He has been looking after his children aged two, nine and 11.

“His mother died recently. He promised his mother just before she died that he would stop using substances. That is exactly what he has done.

“In the past he has had difficulties with drugs and alcohol. Alcohol was an issue in this particular offence. He is remorseful.”

Sentencing him on Wednesday, June 25, Judge John Bromley Davenport QC, said: “You’re extremely fortunate you are not going straight to prison today.

“You caused this unfortunate gentleman to suffer in the last eight months of his life. He suffered and it is entirely your responsibility.

“He was no longer able to take part in his activities because of his damaged leg and pain.”

Burrows was given a two year sentence suspended for two years, placed on a thinking skills programme and a 12-month curfew from 9pm to 7am.