A CALLOUS thief who targeted a pensioner as she sat in a church is facing a lengthy spell behind bars.
Keith Ballantine stole the OAP’s purse as she sat in the pews during morning prayers at St Andrews High Church, Musselburgh, last month.
Ballantine stole two £5 notes from the generous parishioner with the cash due to be donated to worthy church causes.
The sneaky thief – who was jailed in May following a separate street attack on a frail female pensioner – dumped the empty purse in a toilet bin before making his excuses and leaving the place of worship.
Drug user Ballantine admitted the offence during an appearance at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday.
The 40-year-old, from Musselburgh, also pleaded guilty to trying to break into a secure till with intent to steal at the town’s bowling club on June 28.
Fiscal depute Mark Keene told the court Ballantine was seen entering the church for the morning service at around 10.30am on August 16.
Mr Keene said: “People were welcoming others to attend the morning service at the church.
“The woman had placed her purse next to her which contained two £5 notes in separate envelopes.
“The accused sat behind her and a person at the rear of the church noted the accused bent over and reached out. After prayers had finished the accused walked to the toilet.
“He then returned and said he needed to go home.
“The empty purse was then found in a waste bin in the toilet.”
Solicitor Mary Moultrie said there had been a “worrying pattern emerging” concerning Ballantine’s offending and that he stole to feed his drug habit.
Ms Moultrie added Ballantine had an “extremely low IQ” and suffered from “learning difficulties”.
The court also heard Ballantine has a seven-month unexpired portion of a previous jail sentence imposed earlier this year following his early release.
Ballantine was handed a backdated 15-month custodial sentence in May after pleading guilty to the street robbery on the vulnerable pensioner.
The attacker – who was high on heroin and legal highs at the time – attacked an 82-year-old woman in a dark Musselburgh street as she made her way home from a shopping trip last December.
The pensioner was knocked to the ground during the struggle and the thief made off with her shopping bag and a purse as she lay on the pavement.
He also admitted to attempting to break into a 72-year-old woman’s home just four weeks earlier.
Sheriff James Scott yesterday deferred sentence to later this month for the church theft for a rapid drug treatment and testing order assessment.