A MAN who was high on drugs stole a purse from a 90-year-old woman as she attended a church service - an offence that a judge described as “fantastically mean and awful”.

However, Jody Silver, who has a long list of previous convictions for offences including robbery, criminal damage, harassment, theft and dishonesty, escaped jail after telling Judge Keith Cutler he was “deeply sorry” for his actions.

Winchester Crown Court heard how Silver, 34, targeted his elderly victim as she sat in the pews of St Michael's Church, in Basingstoke town centre, at around 7pm on June 15.

Prosecuting, Miss Rebecca Fairbairn described how the pensioner had taken her purse from her handbag to contribute to the collection box during the course of the church service.

But she later noticed that the purse, which contained only £1, had disappeared.

She gave a description of Silver to the police, and CCTV pictures helped to identify him as the thief.

Miss Fairburn said the pensioner had been left “understandably distressed” by the incident.

She said: “The purse was given to her by a friend. It had sentimental value and was used as a teething item for, I believe, a grandchild.”

Defending Silver, of Mary Rose Court, Attwood Close, Basingstoke, Stephen Parish conceded that the theft was “extremely mean.”

He said: “While it is not that serious in terms of theft, it is extremely mean. He says the reason he committed the offence was he was high on drugs. That is not mitigation, but it is what happened."

He added that his client had stopped taking drugs by August 1 and has since volunteered for drugs testing while on remand in prison.

Judge Cutler said: “This is a fantastically mean and awful offence. I wonder what she (the victim) would want. She would want me to punish you but also to see if there was a way to rehabilitate you.”

Silver told Judge Cutler that he was sorry for what he had done.

He said: “I didn't mean to do it but I was withdrawing (from heroin), and I am deeply sorry.”

Silver was sentenced to a community order of 12 months with a supervision requirement. He was also made subject to an eight-week curfew, which will mean he must stay at his home address between 8pm and 6am.

Judge Cutler said: “If there are any breaches, you will come back to me and you will be going to prison for a long time.”