A JUDGE yesterday freed a shampoo thief in light of her 'venerable old age'. The light-fingered mainland woman was about two years his senior. During an appeal against her sentence in the High Court, Cheung Lik presented Mr Justice Duffy with a note from a doctor certifying her husband 'is very old'. 'He's only 59!' the judge, also 59, objected. 'He may be younger than you but he's sick,' the woman replied. Cheung said her time in prison had left her ailing, aged husband with no one to take care of him. She said she too was suffering from a 'nervous problem'. Asked how old she was, Cheung said she did not know, since she was uneducated. However, she suspected she was 62. Mr Justice Duffy noted her age had been recorded as 60 when she was convicted last June. 'How could your age have increased by two years since then?' the judge wondered. Cheung said: 'In our native place the counting of the years is different from the practice here in Hong Kong.' The judge smiled as he told the grey-haired woman that she would be released immediately 'as an act of mercy and because of your venerable old age'. Cheung had already served eight months of her 10-month jail term for theft and for illegally coming to Hong Kong. She had pleaded guilty to both charges. The woman wept as she thanked the judge for freeing her. Cheung crept across the border on June 11 last year. Within two days of her arrival, she was caught stealing two bottles of shampoo and a jar of body lotion from a Mannings shop in Tai Kok Tsui. She told police she had come to Hong Kong to help her newly divorced daughter, who was suffering from depression. Cheung said she had hoped to ease the younger woman's burden by minding her two grandsons. She was convicted by a North Kowloon magistrate on July 24.