A MILFORD Haven man committed the "despicable act" of stealing from a church after his benefits stopped being paid under the new universal credit system.

Sam Maguire, of Hawthorn Path, Mount Estate, appeared in front of magistrates at Haverfordwest on Monday to admit stealing £598 from St Katharine's and St Peter's Church in Milford Haven.

Sian Vaughan, prosecuting, told the court that Maguire had entered the church on Sunday, November 18, and taken the money, most of which has now been recovered.

Mark Layton, defending, said that Maguire's benefits had been switched over to universal credit and he had gone for six or seven weeks without receiving any money.

He had rent arrears of around £1,000. His partner was pregnant and neither of them had eaten for two days.

Magistrates heard that the 33-year-old had gone to the church hoping to get a referral to the charity PATCH.

He went into a room in the church and saw the money - the week's congressional collection - left unattended and took it.

Maguire then went to a local shop and spent around £20 on food, drink and tobacco.

The church pastors, who had been away from the building at a celebration, realised that the church had been burgled.

Maguire was identified from CCTV footage.

"He immediately regretted taking the money," said Mr Layton. "He had been thinking of ways to give it back all day."

Maguire admitted the burglary as soon as police approached him and said he was sorry.

"This is a difficulty caused by universal credit," said Mr Layton. "It is a serious offence. One that my client regrets. The money has been returned in the main."

Magistrates ordered Maguire to complete 150 hours of unpaid work and take part in a 20-day rehabilitation requirement.

He was also ordered to pay £85 costs, an £85 victim surcharge and £20 compensation.

"It is a despicable act stealing from a church," they said.

"Even though we do accept that it was spur of the moment and that you do have pressing financial circumstances."