A SHERIFF faced with a children's charity tin thief who WANTED to be jailed for his heartless crime declared: "But we're not supposed to send anyone into custody these days."

Law woman Linda Smith made the statement in open court before seeking to persuade serial offender Patrick McNelis to have his case deferred so that alternatives to prison could be identified.

McNelis, 41, had been released from custody for less than 24 hours regarding another matter when he swiped a Kidney Kids collection can — then booted a police officer in the face.

His lawyer, Gerry Keenan, told Sheriff Smith: "He is asking your Ladyship to send him to custody."

The sheriff replied: "But we're not supposed to send anyone into custody these days.

"Does he not want me to defer for reports to see what else may be done?"

Solicitor Mr Keenan shook his head and said: "No."

McNelis had been drunkenly staggering around West Stewart Street in Greenock with a can of beer in his hand before stealing the charity cash from the Crown and Glory hairdressers salon.

Prosecutor Pamela Brady said: "He was going in and out of various shops.

"He entered the hairdressers with his beer and crouched over the counter, claiming to have a medical issue.

"The accused was asked to leave and police found him sitting in a nearby bus shelter.

"A yellow charity tin for Kidney Kids was concealed under his top."

Fiscal depute Mrs Brady told how McNelis was 'immediately abusive' towards officers, shouting and swearing at them.

As one PC was trying to get him into a waiting squad car he kicked out.

Mrs Brady said: "The officer was struck on his lower lip, which was cut and began to bleed.

"The accused continued to be abusive within Greenock police office and he was not cautioned and charged due to his violent and aggressive behaviour."

Sheriff Smith said: "I take it they got the charity tin back and he didn't spend any of it?"

Mrs Brady replied: "The tin was recovered.

"The injured police officer had soreness around his teeth."

Lawyer Mr Keenan said: "Mr McNelis has some insight into the extent of his problems and he wants to be jailed in order to force him away from drink.

"His intention is to be rehabilitated inside."

McNelis was jailed earlier this year over the theft of another charity box at Greenock's KFC fast food restaurant.

He committed that offence whilst on a community-based sentence imposed on him for sexually assaulting a teenage girl at a bus stop on West Stewart Street.

His latest offences occurred a day after being released from a period on remand following his acquittal on a charge of fighting on Kilblain Street.

Sheriff Smith sentenced him to eight months imprisonment, reduced from 12 months due to his guilty pleas.