A man who carried out a spree of church burglaries says he deserves to be imprisoned for it.

Gilbert Stuart McAlister, 58, appeared by audio visual link in the Wellington District Court today to be sentenced for the bizarre string of break-ins, during which he forced open church safes, helped himself to food and drink, and on one occasion made himself a coffee.

Defence lawyer Lara Caris said the "impetus" of the offending was that McAlister felt let down by the churches "for perhaps not providing the degree of support that he was hoping they would provide to him when he reached out for help".

She did not say exactly what type of support McAlister was seeking from the churches.


He was a diagnosed schizophrenic and suffered from a number of physical ailments, she said.

Speaking to the judge, McAlister said he was remorseful for his actions.

"I deserve to be in prison, sir," he said.

Judge Peter Hobbs said the offending began in September last year, when McAlister entered a mental health centre in Nelson, ate some of the food from the kitchen, and used a computer before leaving with two computer hard drives.

Between then and July this year, McAlister broke into six churches and one kindergarten, sometimes taking nothing, and other times raiding safes for cash.

Among the things McAlister stole was $1200-$1500 in Sunday Mass contributions, a sleeping bag and camping items, and other amounts of cash.

He caused damage to many of the buildings when he jemmied open sliding doors, windows, cabinets, and safes.

On one occasion McAlister broke into a church in Christchurch and drank some milk from the fridge before leaving without having taken any items.


At another church he failed to force open a safe, but instead made a coffee and stole about $40 in coins.

The churches he burgled were mainly based in the Wellington region, though some were in Christchurch. The kindergarten he burgled was in Auckland and was closed for the Christmas holidays at the time.

He has pleaded guilty to nine counts of burglary and one count of unlawfully being in an enclosed yard.

Judge Hobbs said the amount of money taken was not large, but "the type of premises targeted can ill-afford to lose money that was taken".

There had been a "significant impact" on the victims, some of whom were clergy members who lived in residential areas at the burgled churches.

They said they felt "violated" and "disturbed" at the thought of someone going through their personal space.

Other victims said their ability to serve others in the community was compromised by McAlister's actions.

McAlister has an "extensive" criminal history with nearly 100 convictions - 37 of which are for burglary, Judge Hobbs said.

However, the last burglary conviction was in 2014.

Judge Hobbs had "no doubt" McAlister was remorseful, though understood it would be hard for some people to accept, based on the previous history of offending.

"It seems to me that there is something deep and complex going on in relation to your offending . . . you feel let down by the church, you feel let down by the police. Whether or not those feelings are founded in reality is not really the issue. You clearly feel that way."

Judge Hobbs sentenced McAlister to two years and three months in prison.

"One can only hope that you get the support and help that you need to move towards a crime-free lifestyle."