A thieving couple who stole from an 81-year-old woman while she was taking communion on her birthday have been jailed.
Rebecca Mills, 32, of Lincoln Walk, Epsom, pleaded guilty to the theft and was sentenced to eight weeks in jail last month.
Adrian Robertson was sentenced at Wimbledon Magistrates' Court
Plucky churchgoers, a Sunday school teacher and children, gave chase after Miss Mills was seen grabbing the handbag during the 9am service.
But the pair escaped and discarded the handbag before being arrested by police.
Robertson, who stood trial at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court, is already serving a 13 week sentence for an earlier theft, and in 2009 was jailed for two-and-a-half years for robbing a partially sighted musician in Epsom.
Congregation member Deborah Roberts, who gave evidence behind a screen, said she saw the pair enter the pews and thought they were going to sit down as people went up for communion.
She said: "As they were about to go to sit down, she seemed to bend down and grab something then they walked back out of the pews together while he was looking over his shoulder."
Ms Roberts said she pursued the pair out of the church and called after them but they walked away quickly and broke into a run.
She said: "She had gone to take communion, she had left her handbag in the pew to walk down the central aisle."
Police said Brazilian Silvia Federicei-Palmieri, 81, was believed to be on a long holiday in the UK and nothing was taken from her bag.
Sunday school teacher Rachel Street, from behind a screen, told the court that she joined the chase with her two children and spotted Miss Mills with the bag in the car park.
Ms Street said: "They were getting away, I was shouting at them ‘I’m from the church, you have taken the bag’. Then they started to run.
"We were shouting for them to come back and bring the bag back that they had taken from the church."
Both the woman said they were suspicious of the strangers being in the church and saw Mr Robertson hanging around outside the toilet for Miss Mills before the theft.
In the dock, Robertson claimed they only went into the church in order to use the toilet after sleeping rough under a flight of stairs the previous night.
He said it was his idea to go into the church but Mills, who was in the public gallery, interrupted and asked to speak to his lawyer.
She said: "You’re taking the blame for something you haven’t done. I did it."
She walked to the door of the courtroom and added: "He’s taking the blame for something I have been found guilty of."
District Judge Ken Grant asked why he had not been informed of her presence and defence lawyer George Zachary replied: "I had not seen her in court, she wanted to see the defendant."
Mills was ordered to leave the court until it was her turn to give evidence.
Robertson, who wore a blue cross around his neck and a green T-shirt, claimed he did not know Mills had taken the bag until they had left the church.
He said: "I think she picked the bag up, it was by mistake. Nothing was taken from the bag. It was a drunken mistake."
Robertson denied being on the look-out or playing any part in the theft. He said: "Why would I want to take a bag when I was on the way to my Mum’s for Sunday dinner?
"That’s totally wrong. I’m Catholic myself. I did not see no bag or anything when I was in the church."
He said they walked out of the church, adding: "The only time I ran is when I ran across the road and I stopped after that. I had no need to run."
While giving evidence Mills, who had a ponytail and navy top, said she did not plan to take the bag but just "saw the opportunity" while under the influence of drink.
She said: "It was on the floor. I just picked it up. I went round the back towards M&S and threw it down because I thought it was wrong. I didn’t even open it."
She added: "I threw the bag because I felt guilty. I took the blame and said I’m really sorry. You can’t blame someone else for what I have done."
After giving evidence she whispered to Robertson: "I love you."
District Judge Grant sentenced Robertson to 20 weeks in prison saying that stealing from an 81-year-old in church made the theft "particularly unpleasant".
He said: "I conclude without any difficulty Mr Robertson was physically present and was aware of the bag being taken. I conclude he was part of a joint enterprise to take the bag."
Mr Zachary had argued there was no evidence of joint enterprise and the fact they were together did not mean they were "in cahoots".
He said Mr Robertson is currently serving a 13-week sentence for a theft in 2012.
Back in October 2009, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for stealing a mobile phone from a partially-sighted musician.
In May of that year, he had knocked on a window and asked to use the bathroom at the musician's ground floor flat in Ashley Road, Epsom.
After he had left the flat, the 57-year-old victim realised his mobile phone was missing. His friend chased after Robertson, who handed it back.