CHARITY CASH STOLEN: Judge tells Ballymena Court he takes ‘dim view’ of those who steal charity boxes

A JUDGE said courts take a “dim view” of those who steal charity boxes.

District Judge Nigel Broderick told Ballymena Magistrates Court charity boxes were in place “for a reason” and that was that “charities need the money” which the public gives them.

The judge was commenting as two Ballymena men appeared in connection with separate thefts of charity boxes.

Stephen Johnston (25) took a ‘Head Injury Family Support Group’ charity box containing £20 from a chemist shop in the town where he had been getting a prescription.

In an unrelated incident, Adam Cooper (19) admitted stealing an ‘Asthma Action’ charity box on July 29 this year.

Regarding Johnston a prosecutor said after taking the charity box the defendant had left the shop where his girlfriend was present.

When staff became aware the charity box was missing and viewed CCTV Johnston’s girlfriend contacted the defendant who returned “five minutes later” with the charity box.

Johnston was told he was being barred from the store.

The defendant told police he had thought about keeping the money but “knew it was wrong” and then decided to return it.

In September last year the defendant stole tomato ketchup from Poundland in Ballymena.

Defence solicitor Emma McCann said a pre-sentence report said the defendant had a “moderate learning disability”.

Regarding the ketchup theft, Ms McCann said that incident summed up the defendant’s “juvenile understanding” of such cases as he had told her he took the sauce because he “had no tomato ketchup for his chips”.

She said she often found discussions with Johnston were like “dealing with a very young child”.

She said she appreciated taking a charity box was “nasty” but that “again like a small child when he was told that he had done wrong he admitted to that and it was returned to the shop”.

The lawyer said the defendant had been in prison previously where he had “struggled greatly”.

She said that was the context of the sort of person Johnston was.

Judge Broderick said he recognised the defendant had difficulties but said he had little doubt the same plea had been made at two previous courts when he had been given the defendant a chance with suspended sentences.

For the charity box theft the judge handed down a two months prison term and the suspended sentences were activated making a total sentence of eight months along with a £50 fine for the ketchup theft.

Bail was fixed for appeal in the sum of £500.

Johnston had previous convictions including an attempted robbery of a charity shop which he entered carrying a knife. On another occasion he stole more than £100 from two charity boxes.

Regarding Cooper the prosecutor said a member of staff at a shop in Ballymena’s Greenvale Street noticed a charity box was missing from a counter and CCTV then showed the defendant lifting the collection box and “hiding it on his person” before leaving.

The charity box was recovered from an alleyway a short distance away.

Cooper was also detected with cannabis on February 6 this year.

The prosecutor said the defendant told police he didn’t know how a small bag of herbal cannabis had “got into his trouser pocket”.

Defence solicitor Stewart Ballentine said the defendant is seeking employment which could act as a “springboard” in his life.

Cooper was ordered to do 50 hours of unpaid work; was fined £100 and also has to pay compensation of £100 to Asthma Action.

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