A THIEF has been barred from every church and religious building in York after he was caught trying to get coins out of a collection box.

A police community support officer (PCSO) followed Paul James Harrison when he walked into St Wilfrid’s RC Church at 9.45am on Friday January 24, Jane Chadwick, prosecuting, told York magistrates.

As he watched, Harrison approached a collection box, shone a torch into it and tried to fish coins out with a homemade device.

The thief later claimed to police he had just gone into the church to find somewhere quiet to read a book.

Harrison, 36, of Arran Place, York, pleaded guilty to attempted theft and going equipped for theft. He has previous convictions for dishonesty.

Magistrates adjourned his case for a pre-sentence report and bailed him on condition that he does not enter any church or religious building, with the exception of the Salvation Army’s care centre which he can enter to get food.

The ban, which was originally imposed by police after his arrest on January 24 will last until he is sentenced on March 6.

Mrs Chadwick said when the PCSO approached Harrison he put his hands in his pockets and turned to face the altar end of the church.

A police officer called by the PCSO to search him found the torch, two straws and a stick with gum at the end in his pockets. Harrison claimed the straws had been left there after he visited Starbucks.

For Harrison, Richard Minion said: “He does use the church regularly for the reason he said. He does have a book which he likes to read.”

Harrison had needed coins for his electricity meter because he was more than £170 in arrears and had had no heating or hot water for some time. He had psychiatric problems and would benefit from supervision by the probation service.