PENELOPE Aizlewood, mother, and wife of football pundit Mark, tells LIFE how she ended up before a magistrates court charged with shoplifting. Ceri Hillier reports.

Pednelope Aizlewood is slim, attractive and the mother of a beautiful three-year-old girl. She gives the outward appearance of having it all. She is married to a successful husband and lives in a modern family home in one of the pleasantest parts of Gwent.

So how did someone like Mrs Aizlewood end up in a magistrates court, admitting the theft of £40 worth of beauty products from Boots the Chemist in Chepstow?

The 40-year-old says her ordeal began with a Saturday shopping trip like any other, but ended with a nightmare court appearance after her toddler daughter had, unknown to her mum, collected items from around the shop.

She said she pleaded guilty, not because she had committed any crime, but because she thought it would get the awful ordeal over and done with as quickly as possible. Now the mother says she wishes she had accepted the advice of her solicitor and pleaded not guilty.

"There has been so much publicity surrounding it I may as well have pleaded not guilty. "I wish I had pleaded not guilty, because in the eyes of everybody who knows me and my husband I'm a thief and he's married to a thief, and that's not the situation."

Mrs Aizlewood was fined £100 and ordered to pay £35 in costs. Last December she received a caution by Avon and Somerset Police following a similar incident in another branch of Boots.

Sitting in the lounge of the tastefully decorated family home in Tree Tops, Portskewett, Mrs Aizlewood said that throughout the five-minute court ordeal she felt like screaming at the magistrates, "I am not a thief. I am not a serial thief. And I am not a mother who tells her children to thieve for her."

Casting her mind back to the fateful Saturday that led to her court appearance, she said: "I had gone to get a prescription and, while waiting, my daughter and I wandered around the shop looking at different things. There were no baskets at the checkout so the things I wanted I put in the pushchair, knowing that when I went round 15 minutes later to purchase the prescription I would purchase the items at the same time. Which I did."

But Mrs Aizlewood was stopped on the way out of the store by staff alerted by an alarm going off. They found four small items in her handbag and one item in the pushchair that hadn't been paid for.

Mrs Aizlewood cannot explain how the items were in her handbag and can only assume it was through the actions of her three-year-old daughter, Ffion.

She said: "I knew I hadn't put the items in the bag. They were items my daughter had been playing with. I thought she had put them down. I didn't give the items a thought when I made the purchases.

"I was just very lax that day in concentrating on what Ffion was actually doing with the things she was picking up.

"That particular morning, as with most mornings, I was in a rush. It had been a stressful morning. My mum had recently been taken very seriously ill. I was in a rush to get to my mother, who I had to visit every day to care for."

After being charged by the police, Mrs Aizlewood said, she went home in a state of numbness.

She said: "I couldn't believe what I had been through. I didn't know what to do, nor who to tell, nor where to turn. I literally went into a shell. I shut everybody out and didn't tell anybody at all. I felt so embarrassed."

Mrs Aizlewood said she even hid her secret from her husband until after the court case. She nervously told him face to face what she had gone through in Cardiff. Mark Aizlewood, former Leeds United and Wales midfielder, had himself appeared in court just a couple of weeks earlier. He was fined £750 and banned from the road for drink- driving.

She said: "He had just been in court himself and I know how stressful that was for him and how worried he was about his public image and employment. I didn't want to burden or worry him."

She said it had been difficult not telling him what had happened, but says there was never a right time.

She said: "I knew he would be totally supportive and understanding, but I also knew he would worry terribly. I knew he would believe me and there wouldn't be a problem with the surrounding story because he knows what it is like taking Ffion shopping.

"He was very disappointed that I hadn't told him, but could understand why." The morning following her court ap-pearance, Mrs Aizlewood did not want to face the world.

She said: "I didn't want to open the curtains. I didn't want to take Ffion to nursery. I didn't want to answer the phone, the door, speak to any friends, or anybody. But I knew the truth and knew I wasn't what I may be perceived to be.

"Because of that I found the strength to go out. I took Ffion to nursery and stood there the same as every day. I was aware people may be looking at me out of the corner of their eye, thinking 'that woman is a shoplifter', but I was hoping they would be saying 'I cannot believe she would do that'."

Mrs Aizlewood said one person spoke to her and said that by the grace of God they had been spared the same fate after unwittingly walking out of a shop with unpaid-for goods. Between her arrest and her court case, Mrs Aizlewood said, she only went shopping once. Since her court case she still hasn't ventured out as much as she used to, and even missed her weekly aerobics class because of the embarrassment she feels. Mrs Aizlewood said she now takes extra precautions when she goes shopping, particularly when she has Ffion with her.

She said: "From a store detective's view he is looking for women with open handbags, trays under the pushchair, pockets. They are trained to look for that kind of thing. "Ffion carries a comfort blanket; that was on the pushchair. My handbag was on the pushchair, open.

"Ffion is now at the point where I don't always need to take the pushchair and I try to convince her not to take the comfort blanket. My bags are also zipped up." But she added that the experience has left a scar on her emotionally. She said: "I have a fear of shopping now.

"I'm frightened I'm being constantly watched, which is a horrible feeling, and my body language is such that I look suspicious - because I am frightened."

*PICTURED: Penelope Aizlewood with daughter Ffion.