A SERIAL thief has been jailed for eight years after brazenly stealing bags and a wallet from churchgoers just days after his release from corrective training for earlier thefts.
The jobless man, Michael Neo Eng Keong, 35, walked into six different churches and stole the unattended items, worth almost $10,000 in all.
On each occasion, between Jan 3 and 11 this year, he made off with a bag or wallet. He pocketed some of the contents, including cash, after fleeing the scene.
The churches he targeted include True Way Presbyterian Church in Stirling Road, Church of Our Saviour in Margaret Drive and Faith Methodist Church in Commonwealth Drive.
The victims had turned up for events including church services and a wedding reception.
Yesterday, Neo pleaded guilty to three charges of theft and had another three taken into consideration. About $7,000 of the loot was recovered.
The court heard that between 11.20am and 1.43pm on Jan 4, Neo entered Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church in Wishart Road and loitered on the ground floor "looking for opportunities".
He noticed that a worship service had ended and saw a crowd coming down the stairs.
He then spotted a female churchgoer placing her Longchamp leather bag on a table near the church's front entrance. He made off with it when she walked away to get refreshments and speak to a friend.
He left the bag in a public toilet, and sold an iPad from the bag at a flea market.
Neo has a history of theft convictions dating back to 1992.
He recently completed a five-year stint of corrective training and was released on Dec 23 last year - less than two weeks before he committed the first of the latest thefts.
For each count of theft, he could have been jailed for up to three years and fined.
This article was first published on Feb 25, 2015.
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