A CAREER criminal has been told to expect at least six months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing bank cards, cash and shopping vouchers from her own family at her uncle's wake.

Former Gravesend resident Michelle Roberts, 45, admitted four counts of theft and three of fraud at Basildon Crown Court on Monday.

She was seen crying and shaking in the dock before putting in the guilty plea.

Prosecuting Tony Abelle told the court that when Roberts, who had not seen some of her family for 25 years, was at the wake in Shoebury, Essex ,she took four bank cards, £300 in John Lewis vouchers, a cheque book and £80 in cash from "vulnerable" family members.

Mr Abelle said: "She was seen by a family member hunched over a handbag in the living room rifling through it standing facing a wall.

"The lady didn't think anything of it till later when she discovered her bag open, her car keys on the window sill and her son's library card hidden behind a cushion.

"The defendant was also seen trying to distract people telling them to look at old photos so they would come away from their handbags."

Roberts, now of Bracondale Road, Abbey Wood, was also heard asking for people's addresses and dates of birth.

Members of the family became suspicious about her behaviour and in the following days discovered items were missing.

It was established four women had bank cards missing.

The day after the wake on December 19, 2011, Roberts used the bank cards to order CDs and DVDs on Cdwow.com and had the parcels delivered to her home address in Gravesend.

She also ordered £270 worth of goods from Asda online which included two mobile phones and an iPod dock which was discovered by police at her Ascot Road home in Gravesend.

The court heard that when Roberts was arrested she blamed the thefts on her partner, who was found later to have nothing to do with the crime.

In a lengthy police interview after her arrest in April 2012 she also admitted to spending the John Lewis vouchers.

She shouted repeatedly at her defence lawyer Steven Fitzpatrick across the court telling him "don't leave me alone'' and was heard saying he was her "only friend".

She then appeared calm and collected for the rest of the hearing.

Mr Fitzpatrick said Roberts had mental health issues and had been in an abusive relationship.

The court heard that in 2012 she stole from charity boxes in north Kent while pretending her teenage son had terminal cancer.

Roberts also admitted to stealing a purse from an 89-year-old lady while carrying out community payback at the Northfleet Sunday Lunch Club for the elderly.

She was locked up for 180 days after a suspended sentence she received in July 2012 was activated.

Roberts, who attended court with two of her sons and former partner, was released on unconditional bail until her sentencing in March while a psychological report is drafted.

A family member, who is in her 80s and did not want to be named, said outside court: "It has been two years of hell and I am glad she pleaded guilty and it is finally over."

Another family member wishing to remain anonymous, said he believed she came to the wake with the intention of stealing from attendees.

Judge Jonathon Black told Roberts: "You should prepare yourself for a custodial sentence the next time you come back here."