A 47-year-old man who stole handbags from a church vestry belonging to members of the choir was handed a 16-month sentence yesterday.
Paul Kerr carried out the theft at St Mark's Parish Church in Newtownards before the morning service on Sunday, September 1 last year.
He appeared at Belfast Crown Court via a video-link with Maghaberry Prison, and was informed he will spend eight months in jail followed by eight months on licence.
Branding the thefts as "petty and nasty", Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said Kerr was "caught red-handed".
Kerr, of no fixed abode, has been in custody since last September. Judge Miller said on the morning in question members of the choir left personal items in a wardrobe in the vestry.
When they returned to the vestry they saw the wardrobe was open and a number of handbags were missing.
One of the choir members decided to drive around the area to see if he could see anyone, and at around noon he saw Kerr in the car park of the old leisure centre.
They saw Kerr placing something into bushes, and when he approached and asked if he had seen anyone running past, Kerr shook his head.
Police were called and when they arrived Kerr was arrested and four handbags were retrieved from the bushes.
Kerr initially claimed he was in the car park waiting for a friend "for sex and a drink", and when asked about the handbags he said "nothing to do with me".
While he initially denied the offences, Kerr subsequently pleaded guilty to four counts of theft.
Judge Miller said that at the time of the thefts Kerr was living in a hostel. Noting Kerr had an "unsettled childhood" and issues with drink and prescription drugs from an early age, the judge also spoke of a history of gambling.
As he sentenced the culprit, Judge Miller said he accepted Kerr was remorseful for his actions. The judge also recommended that during his period on licence Kerr attend any programmes that will address his addiction issues and "his underlying offending behaviours."