A man who was caught on CCTV stealing a Poppy Appeal tin is now raising money – for the same charity he stole from.
Stephen Taylorson, 50, was caught on camera swiping a Royal British Legion collection tin from the counter of a chip shop in 2014.
The former drug addict, who has 105 convictions to his name for theft and other offences, was handed a suspended sentence by magistrates for the theft but later ended up behind bars after taking petrol without paying.
Now Mr Taylorson, who was hooked on crack cocaine and heroin at the time, claims he is a reformed character after spending three months in HMP Durham.
In November last year, just two days before Remembrance Sunday, Taylorson went into Redz fish and chip shop, in Sunderland, Tyne Wear, and callously took the poppy tin off the counter while staff had their backs turned.
He pleaded guilty to charges of theft and of being concerned in supply of Class C drugs and failure to surrender to bail.
Mr Taylorson handed himself in after seeing CCTV pictures of the theft.
He said: “The drugs took over me because I know myself that it isn’t right to steal.
“Now, I want to give something back because it’s the right thing to do.
“People might think it’s a scam but I’ve got the proper forms and I’ll be handing over the money when I get it all in.
”I like my life now.
Mr Taylorson says he has already gathered in hundreds of pounds in sponsorship and wants to generate as much as possible as a way of making it up to the public.
Speaking from his home, he said: ”I stole the tin to get money for drugs but it was only in prison that I saw the light. I’ve changed my ways.
“I was only eight and a half stone when I went in but I’ve been going to the gym ever since and I’m a healthy 12 and a half stone now.
“I read the bible every day and I go to church in South Shields as well. The Lord has opened doors for me.
“People might not believe me and think what I’m doing is a scam, but it isn’t.”
“When I’ve been into the town before people have said “there’s him who took the poppy tin”, but I want to show people that it wasn’t the real me.”
Talking about his decision to plunge into the icy waters of the North Sea for this year’s dip, he added: “I’ve registered for it and got the sponsorforms sorted as well as a costume.
“It’s got a cape and is a mix of Thor and Superman.
”I want to raise as much as possible and I’ve already got £300 in.”
Mr Taylorson’s mum Kathleen Rossi, 73, says she is stunned but immensely proud at her son’s change of lifestyle.
“What he did was terrible and I understand the criticism that he has got for it,” said Mrs Rossi, who is also mum to Mr Taylorson’s three brothers.
“I’ve fallen out with people over it but I had to stand by him.
“He got in with the wrong people and the drugs took hold of Stephen, but he is my son and nothing can beat a mother’s love.
“I do believe that people can change and I hope this is the turning point.”