AN ex-food company employee made a series of unofficial early morning visits to his former workplace to help himself to trays of meat products, a court heard.

Bakery staff at George Bolam Foods, on Sedgefield Industrial Estate, raised concern after Thomas Midgley was seen on CCTV parked outside the Salters Lane premises at 3.50am on December 5.

He appeared to be waiting for the bakery staff to open and switch on lights at 4am, and he was then seen entering the building by a fire door.

Durham Crown Court was told previous CCTV footage was reviewed and it showed Midgley entering the building by similar means on 13 other occasions dating back to October 16.

Anthony Pettengell, prosecuting, said during that time 35 boxes of meats, in different cuts, and one large joint were stolen, with an estimated loss of £12,000 to the business.

Midgley was interviewed on the day of arrest and made admissions, but not to the frequency suggested.

But in a further interview, after clips were shown to him, Midgley accepted it was him on the footage.

Mr Pettengell told the court that Midgley, now 29, worked for Bolams between the ages of 16 and 27, as well as on a subsequent 12-week contract which ended in April last year.

In a victim statement, read to the court, David Bolam, of the family company, spoke of his upset at events and highlighted the impact on the viability of the business.

He said Midgley had previously been “let go” only because the margins for the business were tight and the company could not employ the same numbers of staff or pay them as well as they would like.

Midgley, of Surtees Terrace, Ferryhill, who has no previous convictions, admitted burglary.

Simon Perkins, mitigating, urged Judge Jonathan Carroll to impose a non-custodial, or suspended prison sentence, due to Midgley’s previous clean record and the fact he had a previous “consistent” work record with the same employers.

But he said Midgley’s “misuse of cocaine spiralled out of control” at this time leading to the break-up of a previous relationship.

Mr Perkins said if spared prison, Midgley has prospects of a stone masonry job which would give him means to recompense Bolams.

But, Judge Carroll said the offending was too prolonged and caused too much loss to the family business to pass anything other than an immediate jail sentence.

He imposed a 16-month prison sentence and ordered Midgley to pay a £140 statutory surcharge.