A TEENAGER who stole the Help For Heroes collection box from a funeral directors run by an injured serviceman has been given community service.
Curtis Willard, 19, of no fixed address, appeared at Eastbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday morning (July 4) and pleaded guilty to stealing the charity box from Payne & Son in Seaside on Friday (July 29).
The court heard Willard had gone in to the funeral directors, a family business set up by Christopher Howard who lost his hand and leg while serving in Afghanistan.
Christopher’s mother Donna Payne was manning the desk in the funeral parlour when Willard asked her about costs for his nan’s funeral.
Donna turned her back and he stole the Help for Heroes collection tin and made a quick exit.
Donna said, “I didn’t realise at first, but then someone came in to make a donation and I noticed it had gone.
“I checked the CCTV and you could see him take it. I couldn’t believe someone would do that.”
Donna called police and the CCTV footage of Willard was handed over and then released to BBC South East Today.
Willard’s aunty called the police when the CCTV footage of the crime was shown and he was quickly identified and arrested by the officers.
Willard was charged for the offence late on Tuesday night (July 3), remanded in custody overnight and was then up before magistrates the next morning.
He pleaded guilty at the first opportunity after telling police he had stolen the money because he needed it for food and then thrown the empty collection tin in the bin.
Justin Rivett, defending, said Willard had been in care and had stolen the cash because he was homeless and hungry.
Mr Rivett said, “He has gone in to the funeral directors for a genuine reason.
“He is wandering the streets and as his gran had died recently, and out of boredom, he went in there to ask about prices.
“When the lady went to get the leaflet he took the opportunity to steal the box.
“He is a young man who clearly needs direction in his life and some assistance on getting back on his feet.”
The probation service interviewed Willard and he told the officer he had appreciation for the armed services and that his uncle was out serving in Afghanistan.
Willard was given a 12-month community order with supervision. He was also ordered to carry out 150 hours unpaid work.
Speaking after Willard was sentenced, Donna said, “I am not surprised that is all he got. “I personally think his punishment should be to be taken to Hedley Court and get him to stand in front of the soldiers. He is lucky he can stand.”
Pictured: Donna Payne with one of the collecting tins (E27093N)