Friends ‘lookalike’ thief jailed for nine months
A "lookalike" of Friends actor David Schwimmer has been jailed for nine months for theft and fraud offences.
Abdulah Husseini, 36, described in court as a "travelling, wandering, nomadic thief", used a stolen bank card to make or attempt to make fraudulent purchases at four shops in Blackpool, Lancashire, last September.
He had walked into an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant in the resort and swiped a wallet from a customer's jacket while he was away from his table.
Shortly after, he began trying to use the card from the wallet and made two successful purchases at nearby stores before CCTV showed him carrying cans of beers to the till at an Iceland store, Burnley Crown Court heard.
A month later, Blackpool Police posted the captured CCTV image on its Facebook page in an appeal to trace the offender.
The post subsequently went went viral with more than 11 million shares and 30,000 comments as members of the public pointed out the suspect's likeness to Schwimmer's character Ross Geller in the popular US sitcom.
Schwimmer then posted a video to his Twitter account that showed him scurrying through a convenience store carrying a carton of beer before looking up furtively at a CCTV camera.
He captioned the video: "Officers, I swear it wasn't me. As you can see, I was in New York.
"To the hardworking Blackpool Police, good luck with the investigation."
He added the hashtag #itwasntme to the post.
On Thursday, Husseini was convicted by a jury after a two-day trial of one count of theft and four counts of fraud by false representation.
He was then sentenced by Judge Sara Dodd, who told him he had an "appalling criminal history" and that he was "an habitual thief".
Husseini, an Iranian national, has 32 previous convictions for 60 offences since 2008, including 27 offences for theft and dishonesty.
The defendant, from Slough, travelled throughout the country to commit offences in England, Scotland and Wales, the court heard.
Prosecutor Andy Scott said: "He is a travelling, wandering, nomadic thief and he is a consistent thief with an affinity to steal alcohol."
Husseini has been remanded in custody since he served an 18-week jail term imposed at Wimbledon Magistrates' Court in January for offences of handling stolen goods, theft and possession of a knife.
Judge Dodd told him he "may be released very soon" on licence after he had effectively already served half his nine-month term awaiting the trial.
A Metropolitan Police officer recognised Husseini from the Facebook photograph appeal after he had arrested him in Wimbledon only three days before the Blackpool offences on September 20.
It emerged that Husseini had also been arrested in Blackpool on September 23 after he was caught red-handled trying to steal two bottles of Jack Daniels whiskey from Sainsbury's supermarket in Talbot Road – close to Mr Basrai's World Cuisines buffet restaurant – and was fined £185 by local magistrates.
He told police he had no money, could not afford to eat or smoke and did not receive benefits.
Husseini remained at large until November 12 when he was arrested in London and was later summonsed to appear before Blackpool magistrates the following month for the September 20 allegations.
A warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to attend court on December 18 and he was detained again in January this year.
Husseini denied the September 20 offences as his barrister, Rebecca Filetti, suggested to the Met officer that he was mistaken in identifying Husseini as the man in the Facebook photo appeal after he viewed it in an uncontrolled setting on his mobile phone.
Miss Filletti also argued Blackpool police had not followed up claims from a woman named Susan Trowbridge who told them she believed the man in the photograph was her adopted son, Paul, who had been missing from the Swindon area for 11 years.
Four other friends of Mr Trowbridge also independently and separately contacted police to say they too thought it was him.
Miss Filletti said these were "legitimate lines of inquiry" but the police had decided very early on who the perpetrator was, which had left an "abundance of possibilities that are still outstanding".
The jury disagreed and convicted Husseini after less than two hours of deliberation.
In mitigation, Miss Filletti said her client had problems with heroin and crack but while in custody had made "significant efforts" to overcome his drug addiction.
It was hoped a family friend would be able to offer him some manual work on his release and that a brother in the London area could give him emotional support, she added.