A FORMER council employee has been convicted of fraud and ordered to pay back more than £5,000.

Paul Watson was employed by Shildon Town Council as manager of the town’s Civic Hall for 11 years until he left in April, 2018.

While he was there, catering supplies were bought for the Civic Hall by the town council from a company called Bidfood.

The council was unaware that all purchases from Bidfood accumulated loyalty points, known as Safari Points, which could later be redeemed for vouchers of a cash value depending on the total amount spent that year.

The council was awarded an additional 1,000,000 Safari Points following a prize draw which Mr Watson entered and won. The vouchers were intended for the purchasing customer and were in effect the property of the town council, not Mr Watson.

But Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court heard how Mr Watson claimed the vouchers for himself and never declared their existence to the town council.

On each occasion he redeemed the points as vouchers and used them for his own purposes, making no attempt to return them to the council or inform his employers of their existence.

Mr Watson, of Bankfoot Grove, in Crook, pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud by misrepresentation at the hearing on April 9.

The 53-year-old was sentenced to a community order and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

He must also pay back £5,085 to Shildon Town Council and £170 costs.

A statement from Shildon Town Council said: “The council was made aware of a potential fraud which was immediately referred to the town council’s internal auditor who investigated and confirmed the facts.

“As a consequence, this matter was immediately referred to the police for investigation.

“Subsequently, a case was pursued through the court where the defendant Paul Watson, former civic hall manager, pleaded guilty.

“The defendant was sentenced and compensation awarded to the town council for their loss. This matter has now been resolved to the satisfaction of the council.”

The Northern Echo has been unable to contact Mr Watson for comment.