An assistant manager at a garden centre has been jailed for fraud after deceiving innocent members of the public into buying stolen garden machinery during a seven-year scam.
Philip Smith, 38, of New Road, Chilworth, was working at the Cranleigh Garden Machinery store at Notcutts Garden Centre where he had sole responsibility for stock control.
Police say that over a seven year period Smith ordered numerous lawnmowers on the company accounts and then deliberately altered the amounts in company records to make it look like only a number of them had actually been delivered. He would then steal the mowers which were not recorded and sell them on for cash with false paperwork.
An investigation was launched when one of the customers brought his lawnmower in for repair and the managing director, Mandy Halliday, decided to contact the supplier to see if was still under warranty. The supplier confirmed they had sold the lawnmower to her company. Mrs Halliday’s suspicions were raised when she obtained the original delivery invoice and saw that the mower was still listed as a stock item and there was no evidence that it had ever been sold to the customer.
Further investigation revealed that Smith stole almost £70,000 worth of garden machinery between 2009 and 2016. He was jailed for 21 months.
PC John Ryan, who led the investigation, said: “Smith was able to get away with his audacious scam for seven years because he was solely responsible for ordering the stock and would falsify the paperwork to ensure he got away with it. His father originally owned the company until 2007 when it was sold on and he was made assistant manager due to his extensive knowledge of the busines.
“He has then proceeded to abuse his position and the trust placed in him by the new owners, as well as defrauding innocent members of the public who had no idea they were buying stolen goods.
“I hope that the sentence he has received sends a strong message that we take this kind of offending extremely seriously and will always carry out a thorough investigation into any allegations of fraud.”
MD Mandy Halliday said: “My business owes a huge debt of gratitude to Surrey Police for the time and effort that they have taken to investigate this crime and bring Philip Smith to account for his actions. The support and guidance they have given me has been invaluable.”
You can report fraud using the Action Fraud online fraud reporting service 24/7 at http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report-a-fraud-including-online-crime-questions They also provide help and advice over the phone through the Action Fraud contact centre on 0300 123 2040.