Chef swindled Burton Latimer garden centre in £14,000 scam

He wiped tears from his face as he was spared from prison

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 7:00 am

A chef who worked at a Burton Latimer garden centre faked dozens of invoices to swindle his employers out of more than £14,000.

Christopher Brown, 34, was trusted to pay for supplies for the cafe at Seasons in Cranford Road, where he was the chef manager.

But over the course of just under a year he created invoices for desserts which were never ordered - and paid himself the cash.

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Seasons Garden Centre.

On Tuesday (March 30) he wiped tears from his eyes and let out a sigh of relief after he was spared from prison.

Northampton Crown Court heard the experienced chef, of Cecil Street, started working at the garden centre in December 2018 and part of his role was to order and pay for food to be used in the cafe.

One of the cafe's former regular suppliers was a Cambridge dessert company, who stopped supplying goods before Brown joined.

Prosecuting, Noel Philo said: "Unfortunately Christopher Brown devised a way to make it seem, very convincingly, as if they were [still] supplying dessert items."

Between 30 and 40 times he made his own fake invoices from the company, and then took the cash to 'pay' the dessert firm.

There was a break in the invoices in July for a few weeks when Brown left "for a better job" before he returned shortly after - and as soon as he did the invoices started coming through again.

The court heard that in total he defrauded the garden centre out of £14,256.21.

Mr Philo said: "Of course there was never any supply of food, but he regularly supplied fake invoices and paid himself."

An office manager at the garden centre's parent company spotted the crime and confronted him, with Brown immediately confessing.

Mr Philo added: "An agreement was made for him to pay it back. He did not pay anything back and the police were called in."

Brown, who has previous convictions for drink-driving, drug possession, shoplifting and fraud, later admitted a charge of fraud before magistrates in Northampton.

Mitigating, Chris Harper said it was an "extraordinary case" and that Brown felt "very great shame and remorse".

He said the fraudster had problems with substance abuse and had already gone to great lengths to rehabilitate.

Mr Harper added that Brown's actions started because of a debt before it spiralled, arguing the case for a suspended sentence so he could seek more help.

He said: "There won't be a next time if he can keep himself off the illicit substances."

Brown faced up to three years in prison - but Her Honour Judge Rebecca Crane spared him from jail because of the 'good prospect' of rehabilitation.

She said: "I accept that there is genuine remorse in this case."

Brown's 10 month prison sentence was suspended for 12 months.

He must take part in rehabilitation activities and complete 80 hours of unpaid work.

No order for compensation was made.

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