A COUNCIL gardener helped himself to more than £50,000-worth of diesel over a year, a court heard.

Gavin Wood worked for Durham County Council and had use of a van, being trusted to fill with fuel going about his work visiting various sites.

Durham Crown Court heard he also filled canisters to help power grass cutters and other machinery in the course of his job.

Ian West, prosecuting, said it came to his superiors’ attention his apparent diesel consumption was, “way in excess of anything any of his colleagues were using”.

Further checks revealed he filled up on weekends, when not working, and multiple times during the week when a single filling should have proved sufficient.

Mr West said over a year the defendant used £52,793-worth of diesel.

He was challenged and admitted taking the diesel, although he was unaware how much he had taken.

The 39-year-old defendant, of Dene Crescent, Shotton Colliery, admitted a single count of theft.

Richard Herrmann, mitigating, said Wood had no idea how much the stolen fuel tallied up to over the course of the year.

Mr Herrmann said apart from his own van, Wood filled canisters to use on the vehicles on which he mowed the fields.

“He’s a man of 39 and of previous good character, living very modestly.”

But Mr Herrmann said Wood had, “the best part of £20,000-worth of debt”, by way of a large loan and credit cards.

He said that since losing his county council job he has found similar work with new employers and is now in the busiest time of year.

Recorder Craig Hassall QC told Wood: “Over a period of 12 months you were engaged in a systematic and sustained theft from your employer.

“What a shame for you and your long-term employer.

“You worked for local government as a gardener all your working life and have managed to get yourself another job.”

Recorder Hassall said, despite taking more than £52,000 worth of diesel, Wood “clearly” would have sold it on for a lot less.

He imposed a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, during which Wood must perform 140-hours’ unpaid work and complete ten rehabilitation activity days.

A crime proceeds hearing will follow later in the year.