An Oswaldtwistle Mills worker who stole nearly £24,000 from the company to pay off payday loan debts has avoided jail.
Matthew Anderton submitted fake invoices for petty cash for companies that did not exist and pocketed the money over a two-and-a-half year period.
Burnley Crown Court how he worked at the award winning shopping centre as an electrical engineer and, after getting into debt, ‘fell into the trap’ of taking out payday loans with Wonga and Lending Stream.
Mills bosses uncovered the theft after concerns were raised about the ‘high volume of petty cash receipts’ for cabling and CCTV equipment.
Father-of-one Anderton, of Marlowe Grove, Baxenden, pleaded guilty to theft and was given a 10-month jail term, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to carry out 140 hours’ unpaid work and repay the total amount stolen.
Richard Archer, prosecuting, told the court the total amount stolen was £23,875.99 and an investigation showed how ‘identical’ invoices were submitted from fake companies using the same VAT number with Anderton as the signatory.
When confronted by general manager Nicholas Pitman, Anderton, who had worked at the company for six years, admitted the offences and was suspended.
Mark Stuart, defending, said the 32-year-old, who now works as a self-employed electrician, has repaid £3,800 to the firm and done ‘everything he could subsequently to mitigate matters.’
He told the court: “He is incredibly embarrassed and upset about the way he has behaved.
“He fell into the trap that many fall into by taking out payday loans with Wonga and Lending Stream.
"He stopped paying them because he couldn’t afford it, but as a net result of that those debts continued to accrue with rates of interest.
“He very foolishly started this initially as a one-off but found it worked and then continued to do so.
"That allowed him to pay back the loans and buy items to furnish his home. He deeply regrets it.
“He was creating receipts not with a great deal of sophistication. If you were bright about the matters you would not have the same VAT number on both.
“He is also doing all in his own name, he is signing for them so sooner or later it was bound to lead back to him.”
'It was professional, planned and an abuse of trust'
Judge Simon Newell said Anderton’s theft was ‘professional’ and ‘an abuse of trust’.
Sentencing, he said: “It would appear you might have been buoyed by your own success of doing this to continue doing it.
“The fraud, which effectively this is, was carried out in some sort of professional way and fake invoices for petty cash were drawn up by yourself.
“I take on board there were deficiencies that led to an accountancy investigation and therefore the discovery of the offences.
“You went to some effort to make sure that your frauds would go through as bona fide dealings on Oswaldtwistle Mills books.
"It was professional, planned, done over a long period and an abuse of trust.
“It does appear that as a result of getting into debt, taking out payday loans, matters increased and escalated to such an extent that they were out of control.
"This offence and conviction for a criminal offence has brought you to your senses.
“While on certain occasions it’s necessary to make an example of people by way even of a short custodial sentence, your situation is not one of those cases so the sentence can be suspended.”