WHILE men his age risked life and limb on the front line in Afghanistan, shifty toerag Karl Anthony Stevens was stealing charity boxes filled with cash to help victims of war.
The former drug addict tried to steal two collection tins containing 21.89 in change donated by shoppers to armed forces appeal fund Help for Heroes.
Magistrates in Sheffield called his offences "nasty", "mean" and "beyond belief" - but gave the 31-year-old six months to clean up his act after he pleaded guilty to theft and attempted theft.
Today the mother of South Yorkshire paratrooper Ben Parkinson, who lost both legs in Afghanistan in 2006 in a landmine explosion which also broke his back, hips and ribs, said Stevens' crimes were "despicable".
"This lad wouldn't last five minutes in the Army," said Diane Dernie. "The military way is to look after others and put them before yourself - and he wouldn't begin to know how to do that.
"Something like this just makes me think how incredibly proud I am of all the boys from the armed forces I've met who want to go out and make something of their lives.
"A lot of them are from difficult backgrounds but they take positive action and make something of their lives. They don't want to be sitting at home doing nothing and stealing from others.
"You see so many young boys joining up and going out to the front line. They make the decision they are going to do something positive with their lives - unlike this toerag."
Sheffield Magistrates' Court heard Stevens, of Race Common Road, Barnsley, was seen in the Co-op supermarket on Pinstone Street in Sheffield city centre on October 19 pulling out a pair of scissors and cutting an elastic cord which secured one charity box to the checkout.
David Marshall, prosecuting, said Stevens put the box - containing 12.27 - down his waistband before cutting the cord on a second box which contained 9.62 and trying to pinch that too.
Mr Marshall said: "He was detained and the police were contacted. The defendant was interviewed and he admitted the offences.
"He said he was trying to get back to Barnsley and had insufficient money. He got the scissors from the shop next door."
Matthew Shepherd, defending, said one-time heroin addict Stevens was no stranger to the courts but had not been in trouble for over a year.
He said: "Just over a year ago his offending stopped, and the reason for that was he got himself on to a methadone programme.
"But over a six week period between October and November he had a problem with his prescription and it was stopped.
"When the medication stops, for whatever reason, they very quickly get dragged back down.
"It knocked him off kilter. It was during that time these offences were committed. It was a moment of foolishness born out of his drug addiction."
Deferring sentencing for six months to give Stevens the chance to get back on the straight and narrow, the chairman of the bench Paul Cuttell told him: "I think you should be aware that, were we sentencing today, you would have been going to prison.
"These are nasty, mean offences. To steal from two charity boxes for that particular charity is really beyond belief that any human being could do that."
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