A ‘HARD-WORKING’ man who was a trusted and well-liked member of staff had been secretly ripping his employers off as an act of revenge.

Everton Evans, a former employee of the Citrus Office Group, spent years using his company fuel card to purchase petrol, drums of which he later gave to others in exchange for goods.

Session House Court in Preston heard how the 44-year-old had ‘held a grudge’ towards his employer after he claimed he had been made to work increasingly longer shifts for little pay.

Evans, a man of previous good character, had worked for the company for around eight years and had, for the most part, held a good working relationship with the business and its owner, Gordon Profit.

Prosecuting, Alexandra Sutton said: “On August 16 2018, a witness saw a van from the company parked outside a building supplies shop in Haslingden.

“He saw a man, the defendant, unloading fuel drums from a van into the back of a BMW X5.

“Finding it to be suspicious, he contacted the company and told him them what he had seen. Mr Profit confirmed that the defendant had no reason to be at that location and that the company did not have BMW.

“He previously had been suspicious about the number of fuel stops the defendant had made all of which had been paid for through a business fuel card. Consequently, Mr Profit examined the fuel records and found there were occasions when the amount of fuel purchased had exceeded the capacity of the vehicles in the fleet.

“On August 16 he reported the matter to the police and a staff meeting was held on the 17th, during which the defendant denied buying fuel. He was then suspended pending an investigation.”

Further enquiries led to CCTV footage showing the defendant fuelling a company vehicle at a petrol station in Nelson on both the 14th and the 16th of August before leaning into the back of the van with the fuel hose, seemingly filling up jerry cans with petrol.

Fuel records were then examined and it was found that between September 2015 and August 2018 there were 142 occasions where the quantity of fuel purchased by the defendant was in excess of the company vehicles' fuel tanks.

He was later questioned by police, with Ms Sutton adding: “During the course of the interview the defendant admitted that he had filled up five litre containers here and there – once or twice a week, and he did this to get back at his boss for the long hours and low pay. He said he had been doing this for around 12 months though he denies selling the fuel, he accepts he exchanged it.”

Defending his client, Neil Howard said: “He was an employee of eight years and there was at one time, a good working relationship with his employer, but things soon became sour, with the hours he was working being longer. He accepts the culpability for his actions. He accepts that in retrospect he acted very selfishly for financial reasons.

“He knows that his good character is now lost forever. This has caused a tremendous amount of embarrassment and shame to both him and his partner of eight years. He has a daughter, and she has had to be sat down to be told about this – an extremely hard conversation to have.”

Sentencing Evans for fraud, Recorder Paul Taylor said: “Because you bore a grudge to your employer because you felt you were being underpaid, you decided to embark on a prolonged course of dishonest conduct where you stole petrol.

“That was a gross misuse of trust which your employer had placed in you. There is no doubt that people who steal from their employer receive custodial sentences – the only question is if you should go to prison today or if it can be suspended.

“I have decided, due to the fact you have led a decent industrious life for so long and you care and provide for your family, both financially and by way of emotional support, that it would be disproportionate to send you to prison.”

Evans, of Crescent Avenue, Haslingden, was jailed for eight months, suspended for 12. A compensation order of £1,846 was also made by Recorder Taylor.

After the court hearing, a disappointed Mr Profit commented: “I am glad a conclusion has been brought to a very disappointing and sad and case of someone who I thought was a valued and trusted employee.”