Lancashire’s most despicable thief is facing almost three years behind bars after a string of cowardly crimes on churchgoers in Preston.
In the space of an hour, 35-year-old Lee Ingham:
* Snatched a bag from a pensioner’s walking frame as she left her Sunday service
* Stole from the collection at a city centre church
* Rifled through a blind woman’s handbag as she sat in church
Today one of his terrified victims spoke out about her ordeal and her relief at him being locked up.
“I felt so vulnerable - I was shaking for days”, said the great-grandmother, who has asked not to be named.
However the brave pensioner said she was not willing to give up easily. She said: “When he went for my bag I was so angry. I was quite prepared to give him a bit of a fight.
“It all happened so quickly. It was a Sunday morning after church. All I wanted to do was go and get some bits from the shop.
“By the time he got my bag I was screaming my head off!”
The woman’s screams were heard by nearby shoppers and a group of men, including James Howe, the manager of Richer Sounds in Church Street, chased Ingham and pulled him into the nearby electronics shop.
Ingham, of Pole Street, Preston, tried to escape but the men held him until the police arrived and he was arrested.
The Vicar of Preston, Fr Timothy Lipscomb, welcomed the 32-month-sentence, saying Ingham targeted frail members of his congregation as he delivered his service from the pulpit.
He told the Evening Post; “He is a menace. He did very nasty things.”
Earlier on the morning of Sunday August 26 Ingham went into two churches in Preston - St George’s in Lune Street and St John’s Minster in Church Street, and sat down next to vulnerable members of the congregation.
Fr Timothy said: “He preyed on people who were partially sighted. It was scary because it was very well planned.
“I was preaching as he walked into the minster. It was very disconcerting because he tried three different seats. I could see him moving from seat to seat.”
At Preston Crown Court Ingham admitted taking the contents from a blind woman’s handbag at St George’s before helping himself to £10 from the church flower fund at the minster.
Fr Timothy said: “The men who caught him really deserve a commendation.
“People who prey on old people are cowardly.”
Ingham pleaded guilty to robbing the pensioner at Preston Crown Court, and asked sentencing judge Heather Lloyd to take the two church thefts into consideration.
Although she was very shaken by the incident his elderly victim was not hurt.
She said: “I feel desperately relieved. I was terrified I was going to have to go to court.”