A callous thief crept into a church a stole a handbag from a woman in her 70s.
The man targeted the Greenstead Evangelical Free Church in Magnolia Drive, Colchester.
The victim was working inside the church when the man stole the unattended handbag.
He was seen running away and two schoolgirls later found the handbag in a bin in Hunwicke Road and returned it to the owner.
Everything was still inside the bag except an £80 Lumix digital camera,
Investigating officer, Pc Wendy Crowson, said: "This was a despicable opportunist crime by a man who went into the church and took a bag which had been left unattended for less than five minutes while the woman was busy elsewhere.
"A man was seen running away from the church and we want to hear from anyone who might have seen him. We also want to hear from anyone who might have seen the handbag being dumped in the bin at Hunwicke Road.
"The woman was very grateful to the schoolgirls who found the bag and kindly returned it to her because it contained a purse, bank cards, personal items and other valuables."
The incident happened at 10.55am on Friday, February 21 and the bag was found on the Sunday.
Anyone who saw the man hanging around the church or running away towards Hunwicke Road should contact Pc Crowson at Colchester Neighbourhood Crime Team on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.