Thief robbed frail OAP as she prayed in church

The robbery happened at St Andrews High Church in Musselburgh.The robbery happened at St Andrews High Church in Musselburgh.
The robbery happened at St Andrews High Church in Musselburgh.
A CRUEL thief who stole cash from a pensioner as she sat praying in a church has been jailed.

Keith Ballantine targeted the frail OAP as she sat in the pews during morning service at St Andrews High Church, in Musselburgh, East Lothian, earlier this year.

Ballantine sat behind the woman in the place of worship before dipping into her handbag and stealing two £5 notes which the generous parishioner was due to donate to worthy church causes.

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The sneak-thief – who was also jailed earlier this year following a cowardly street attack on a frail 82-year-old woman – then dumped the empty purse in a toilet bin before making his excuses and leaving the church.

Heroin addict Ballantine, from Musselburgh, had previously admitted the offence during an appearance at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and sentence had been deferred for a drug treatment and testing assessment to be carried out.

He had also admitted to an offence of attempting to open a till at the town’s bowling club on June 28 this year.

But yesterday the court was told the 40-year-old had been “deemed unsuitable” for the drug programme and Sheriff Derrick McIntyre instead jailed him for 11 months.

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The court heard Ballantine was on licence at the time of the despicable church theft and had only been out of jail for 11 days when he attempted to steal from the bowling club.

Previously, depute fiscal Mark Keene had told the court Ballantine was seen entering the church for the morning service at around 10.30am on August 16 this year.

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.

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“The empty purse was then found in a waste bin in the toilet.”

Yesterday solicitor Paul Smith said his client had committed the offence to “fund his drug habit”.

Sheriff McIntyre sent Ballantine back to prison to serve the remaining seven months of his previous sentence and also jailed him for a further four months for the church theft and the attempted theft from the bowling club.

Ballantine was handed a 15 month sentence in May after pleading guilty to the gutless street robbery on the vulnerable pensioner.

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The thug – who was high on heroin and legal highs at the time - attacked the 82-year-old pensioner in a dark Musselburgh street as she made her way home from a shopping trip last December.

The defenceless 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.