A BAG-SNATCHER was spared jail after claiming a High Street robbery was a social experiment to “see if people still cared.”

Jason Hardy told officers he had given his 69-year-old victim a “thumbs up” beforehand to “let her know it was a joke.”

The robbery took place in Southend High Street on Monday, April 18.

Basildon Crown Court heard the pensioner no longer wears jewellery in public after being left distraught and afraid of going out alone.

Jacob Edwards, prosecuting, said: “The victim, a 69-year-old woman, was in Southend High Street at around lunchtime.

“This defendant approached her from behind, grabbed her handbag from her shoulder and took it from her.

“That caused her to spin around, but fortunately no injuries were sustained.

“A number of members of the public pursued the defendant. As a result, he threw the bag to the ground, so it was recovered relatively shortly afterwards.”

The court heard that at one point, Hardy was seen on CCTV cameras walking “casually” with the bag over his shoulder.

Footage showed he made no effort to look inside or remove items.

Mr Edwards said: “He was apprehended fairly quickly by the officers through CCTV.

“He was interviewed and told police that he had seen the woman and wanted to see if people still cared and that he took the bag for a joke.

“He said that prior to taking the bag he had given the victim a thumbs up so she knew it was a joke.”

But Judge David Owen-Jones said that the pensioner had, in fact, been left “scared.”

In a victim impact statement, Mr Owen-Jones said she the woman told how “her heart was racing and she felt vulnerable.”

He added: “This kind of offence has a great impact on elderly persons.”

The court heard Hardy had carried out an almost identical theft in Woolwich, south London, in 2013- on that occasion stealing an umbrella.

Harry Potter, mitigating, said the offence took place while Hardy was not taking medication for mental health problems.

He said: “He has expressed regret for his actions and the rather bizarre nature of them.

“He seems to be a well-behaved and pleasant young man when he’s on his medication.”

Sentencing Hardy to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, Mr Owen-Jones said any further offending would see him locked up.

Addressing him, he said: “She was a vulnerable lady and she could have fallen and broken her hip.

“She has made a very helpful victim impact statement that states the effect that this robbery had on her.

“Older people who are treated in this way lose their confidence, don’t want to go out and become scared.

“This is the second time you have robbed somebody in exactly the same way.

“In 90 per cent cases, people involved in street robbery they go straight inside, if they to it twice then it’s almost automatically inside.

“I’m willing to take a risk and a risk it is.

“But if you break the order you will come back before me and straight inside you will go for a period of between one and four years.”

Hardy was ordered to undergo mental health treatment and told to carry out 80 hours of unpaid work.