A DRUG addict thief who stole a Royal British Legion poppy collection tin from the counter of a Sunderland chip shop has been spared jail.
Stephen Taylorson, 49, admitted taking the tin from Redz fish and chip shop at Barnes roundabout, just two days before Remembrance Sunday earlier this month.
He also pleaded guilty to charges of being concerned in supply of Class C drugs and failure to surrender to bail.
The case was adjourned to yesterday for the preparation of reports on Taylorson’s compliance with a drug supervision order and he was remanded in custody.
At his sentencing, solicitor Gerry Armstrong told the court Taylorson, of Davison Terrace, Southwick, had handed himself in after CCTV pictures of the theft appeared in the Echo.
In interview, Taylorson admitted taking money out of the tin to buy drugs, saying that there was about £25 inside.
Staff at Redz, however, said that the tin was heavy, indicating that a substantial amount of cash had been collected.
Mr Armstrong told the court: “If you wanted some satisfaction, it could be in the knowledge that Mr Taylorson spent last night in Durham Prison and it was not a pleasant experience for him.
“As I said previously, there can be no mitigation which can be put forward in this case.”
Reports from the Probation Service, read out in court, stated that Taylorson had managed to control his addiction to crack cocaine in recent times, regularly providing negative drug tests at his appointments.
District judge Roger Elsey sentenced the thief to a total of 32 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months and ordered him to pay £150 compensation to the Royal British Legion (RBL) from his Employment Support Allowance.
Mr Elsey said: “The theft of that collection tin is so serious that a custodial sentence can be justified.
“If that was put into effect, the progress that has been made on your drug habit will come to an end.
“The community is better protected from further offending if you are fully rehabilitated.
“You’ve had recent experience of imprisonment, so I can suspend the sentence to enable you to continue with the sentence which you already started.”
Redz owner George Redford said his shop had been inundated with donations since news about the theft hit the headlines.
Giving his reaction to the sentence, Mr Redford said: “I’ve heard of people going to prison for this type of thing before, but maybe because this man has been on drugs it’s better that he doesn’t end up there.
“Either way, he’s a grown man and he should know right from wrong.
“He should have got himself a job rather than steal money which people have kindly handed in.
“From the donations we’ve got in though, and what our own staff have donated themselves, it looks like we’ve quadrupled what we’d collected before the tin was taken.”
RBL branch secretary for Washington, Malcolm Pickering, told the Echo he thought the sentence handed down to Taylorson was lenient.
“I think he’s got off lightly in avoiding prison,” said Mr Pickering.
“The man has drug problems and obviously needs help, but that’s not an excuse to take money from servicemen and women.
“One of those tins can hold up to £300 or £400 when they’re full, which I know from emptying them recently.
“Even though times are tough people are still putting in what they can afford.”