Northern Ireland news

Man who stole handbag from church and ransacked kebab shop could face up to 10 months behind bars

Belfast Magistrates Court heard that Christopher Stewart (35) carried out the theft at Sandy Row Methodist Church in the city

A man who stole a church worshipper's handbag and ransacked a kebab shop has been warned he could face up to 10 months behind bars.

Deferring sentencing of Christopher Stewart until later in the year, a judge stressed the potential prison term for any further offending in the intervening period.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard that the 35-year-old carried out the theft at Sandy Row Methodist Church in the city.

He was accompanied by Victoria McKay (28), of Avoca Street in Belfast, who is set to appeal a six-month jail term imposed on her by another judge last week.

Their victim was targeted as she attended a Sunday service on October 7 last year.

The woman had left her handbag beside her chair while she went for lunch being provided.

But when she returned the bag, containing her purse, cash, cards and reading glasses, was gone.

A witness reported seeing McKay and Stewart, of Hawthorn Walk in Dromore, Co Down, leave the church with the stolen belongings.

They were located and arrested by police in nearby Great Victoria Street a short time later.

Prosecutors said the handbag was then handed over, but some of its contents were missing.

The court also heard how blood stains and CCTV footage linked Stewart to a raid on a kebab shop in Dromore last September.

The premises on Bridge Street had been broken into, ransacked and an alarm ripped off the wall, causing £760 in damage.

Nearly £100 cash was stolen, along with knives and the contents of a charity box.

Defence barrister Richard McConkey disclosed Stewart's history of drugs problems, including an overdose suffered late last year.

Arguing that his client has been engaging with an addiction programme since being released from hospital, he urged against sentencing at this stage.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall agreed to a nine-month deferral, emphasising that Stewart must continue on the drugs programme and remain clean during that period.

Noting his record of more than a dozen previous burglaries, she added: "I'm making this clear, if we come to custody in this matter for the burglary he's looking at around 10 months."

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