Homeless man is spared jail over Poppy Appeal cash thefts

Lee White admitted stealing two poppy tins in Portsmouth
Lee White admitted stealing two poppy tins in Portsmouth
St David's Road in Fratton, Portsmouth. Picture: Google Maps

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A THIEF who stole a pair of charity collection tins has avoided jail.

Lee White, 37, was handed a 12-month suspended prison sentence yesterday after he admitted stealing two Poppy Appeal collection boxes.

Portsmouth Magistrates Court heard White pocketed the tins on two separate occasions last month.

On Friday, November 3, he stole one after trespassing at a block of flats in Haslemere Road in Southsea, before taking the second from a branch of Halifax in Cosham High Street four days later – equipped with a pair of scissors.

The value of the nabbed cash is not known, but the court heard the second stolen box was later recovered.

Defending White, of no fixed address, Rhys Evans told magistrates the defendant was battling mental health issues, homelessness and Class A drug addiction when he stole the tins.

He said: ‘Mr White comes before you as a relatively young man who has a long history of poor mental health and drug addiction.

‘These are serious and unpleasant offences. However, the Mr White who appears before you today is in a much better position than he was in November.

‘His mental health problems are now diagnosed and a treatment plan of psychological intervention is now in place. He is also seeking help for his history of drug misuse.’

The court heard White was attending regular weekly appointments with city homelessness and rehabilitation charity, the Society of St James – and was currently being supported by volunteers and the county’s liaison and diversion service to find a home suitable for his needs.

As previously reported in The News, White was jailed for 12 weeks in 2016 after stealing four charity collection tins from city pubs.

He also spent time in prison this year – being released in August – and will be supervised by the probation service until August, 2018.

As White was handed a sentence yesterday and was ordered to pay a £115 victim surcharge within 28 days, Sian Bamber, presiding, said: ‘Having listened very carefully to what has been said today, we are prepared to give you a suspended sentence for these offences – with no requirements.

‘We understand there is a significant package of support for you in the community and we make no order for costs due to your means.’

The tins White stole last year were taken from two city pubs and a restaurant.

Fundraisers came to the aid of the establishments affected in the haul after CCTV footage showed one of the crimes taking place at the Milton Arms.

It depicted White staring across the bar while stuffing a tin inside his jacket, after nearly dropping it.

Poppy Appeal organiser for Portsmouth Louise Purcell said: ‘I do feel angry but it shows us the desperation of people in the city.

‘That is certainly no excuse, but it is a shame that they have resort to something like this – they are stealing from veterans but they don’t think about that at the time, just about themselves.

‘It is sad that we will never know how much was raised in those tins, but an upside is that we have seen so much incredible support from people across Portsmouth as soon as they heard what had happened, and we cannot thank people enough for their generosity – this really is a passionate and caring city.

‘We can only advice that those raising money for the Poppy Appeal are vigilant with tins.’