A B&Q employee ran a £70,000 scam in which he let tradespeople take building materials out of the store free of charge, York Crown Court heard.

For a year, Thomas David Edwards scanned some of the items on trolleys presented by customers at his checkout at the DIY chain’s Hull Road store and let other items go through unscanned, said Timothy Jacobs, prosecuting.

The tradespeople were able to take all the goods on their trolleys away with them, including those they had not been asked to pay for.

“Without him, nothing could have been done,” said Mr Jacobs of Edwards. “He was the one putting things through the till.”

By the time an internal audit disclosed discrepancies that led to the scam being uncovered, Edwards had cheated his company out of £70,000.

But he escaped a trip to jail because it took the police and the Crown Prosecution Service four years to charge him and others.

Edwards’ barrister Nick Hammond said he made a full confession first to his employers at a disciplinary hearing and the same day to police – in October 2017.

But he and three others were not brought before the courts until late 2021.

“That is a very long period of time to have this hanging over you," said Mr Hammond.

Edwards, now 43, of Middleton Road, Acomb, pleaded guilty to three charges of theft.

Customer Barry Raftree, 49, of Hadrian Avenue, Tang Hall, pleaded guilty to one charge of theft totalling £5,000 over a six-week period.

Two other customers who were alleged to have benefited from Edwards’ actions were acquitted after the prosecution offered no evidence against them earlier this year.

Recorder Simon Jackson KC told Edwards his offending and “significant breach of trust” merited 20 months in jail but his mitigation including the very long wait for justice meant it could be suspended for two years.

Edwards must also do 200 hours’ unpaid work and pay £800 prosecution costs.

Mr Hammonds said Edwards’ crimes had already had a “devastating effect” on him. He had lost his relationship and though he had got a new job in a supermarket after leaving B&Q, he had had to leave after his new employers found out what he had been doing at B&Q.

“He is going to find it extremely difficult to get employment in the future,” said Mr Hammond.

Raftree was made subject to an 18-month community order with 250 hours’ unpaid work and must pay £500 prosecution costs.

Mr Jacobs said Raftree told police he had seen Edwards not charging him for everything on his trolley on one occasion, but didn’t know whether that was deliberate or accidental.

Meeting Edwards later at a garage, he had asked if the shop employee could get him some boards and Edwards had agreed. 

Raftree's solicitor advocate Graham Parkin said he had returned the goods he had stolen before being charged and gave no further mitigation when the judge said he would pass a community order.

The Recorder of York, Judge Sean Morris, demanded an explanation for the delay from the CPS and police months ago, but none was given in court.

He had heard that at one stage nothing had passed between the police and CPS about the case for two years.