A MAN whose “sophisticated” scam caused significant financial damage to a family-run business has narrowly avoided jail.

Paul Harrow was working in the petrol station at Stokesley Motors when he started deliberately voiding fuel purchases and pocketing the cash himself.

Teesside Crown Court heard that Harrow, of Rudby Lea, Hutton Rudby, was “living beyond his means” while stealing money from the till on a regular basis.

When he was arrested, the 26-year-old had secured finance on two cars and was in possession of a number of iPads and computers – something the court heard that the defendant would not be able to afford on his wage from the garage.

The amateur photographer told police his additional income was a result of his fledgling photographic business but he was unable to provide any evidence of his claim, the court was told.

Harrow pleaded guilty to both theft charges – one charge of stealing £129.61 of cash, and one charge of stealing an unknown amount between June 24 and September 15, 2016.

In mitigation, his barrister, Paul Kerr, said: “There was a breach of trust here – a breach of trust to a high degree would be for those cases where people, for instance an accountant or a financial officer, who has day to day contact on accounts.

“This was a breach of trust but in the middle category.”

Judge Deborah Sherwin said the company had lost up to £7,000 during the “sophisticated” theft but the Crown Prosecution Service was only able to prove that he had stolen £129 which happened on the day he was caught in September 2016.

Sentencing Harrow to an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, the judge slammed the defendant for dragging out the case and adding the misery of the garage owners.

She said: “It is clear the number of transactions voided by you was far in excess of any other employee. You were living beyond your means and that was financed by your deceit.

“I’m not convinced that you have shown any remorse for these matters.”

Speaking after the hearing, Marie Mook who runs the family business, said she was pleased the case was finally over.

“I think that it is the trust issue that is the biggest thing,” she said. “We have been in business for 60 years and our employees are more like family members than staff.

She said: “This was huge deal to us – we trusted him and he stole money from us. We could only go back three months to work out how much he could have stolen but we don’t believe he only started during that time, so we have no idea how much he has taken.

“What has made it worse is that we have had to go through all the other staff’s shifts and check their figures and understandably they were upset that they were affectively being investigated as well.”

Harrow was also ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work and pay £99.36 in compensation and £1,300 in court costs.