Serial thief jailed for stealing valuables from six churches

SINGAPORE - A jobless man walked into six different churches and stole valuables that had been left unattended worth almost $10,000.

On Tuesday, Michael Neo Eng Keong was sentenced to eight years' jail.

Between Jan 3 and 11 this year, he made off with a bag or wallet, and pocketed some of its contents after fleeing the scene.

The churches targeted included True Way Presbyterian Church in Stirling Road, Pasir Panjang Hill Brethren Church in Pasir Panjang Hill, and Faith Methodist Church in Commonwealth Drive. The victims had turned up for events such as church services and a wedding reception.

On Tuesday, Neo, 35, 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, he entered Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church and loitered on the ground floor "looking for opportunities". This was when he noticed that a worship service had just ended, and saw a crowd coming down the stairs.

He spotted a woman placing her Longchamp leather bag on a table near the church's front entrance, and took it when she walked away to get some 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 long history of convictions for theft, dating back to 1992. Most recently, he completed a five-year corrective training stint, and was released on Dec 23 last year - less than two weeks before committing the latest thefts.

For each count of theft, he could have been jailed for up to three years and fined.