Company ‘devastated’ after trusted employee stole £30,000 of stock

Norwich Crown Court. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Norwich Crown Court. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood - Credit: Archant

A business owner whose 'trusted' employee stole £30,000 of stock has said the company has been 'devastated' by the thefts.

Matthew Smith had worked for Howard Utting for years, taking a position of responsibility at Uttings Ltd - an outdoor clothing and equipment retailer in Norwich.

But in June last year staff realised items were going missing, and Smith had been accessing their records from home.

After an internal investigation Smith, of Heartsease Lane, admitted £30,000 of thefts from the company. He had been manipulating serial numbers so his thefts went undetected.

He was given a six month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, when he came before Norwich Crown Court in August.

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Smith, 40, returned to court on Thursday when he was ordered to repay £30,000 within three months or face 12 months in prison.

After the hearing Mr Utting said alarm bells were first raised in June last year when staff were searching for products and found them missing.

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"Then we discovered there were lots and lots of products he had accessed and those were now missing," he said.

The company launched an internal investigation and eventually confronted Smith with a list of products he had accessed.

"It took weeks and weeks but we finally got him to admit it," said Mr Utting. "He went through the list and ticked off the ones he admitted to stealing.

"It all came down to manipulation of the serial numbers. Items were manipulated in the order we would search for them so we would never find out until there was just one item left.

"He was quite clever in the way he would only steal things from our core product lines that we kept replacing and had high stocks for."

Mr Utting said more items have been found missing and they suspect the real loss to the company is much higher.

"It had a huge effect and it pretty much wiped out our profits for that year," he said.

Smith had worked for Mr Utting before - at his previous company Warehouse Express. Mr Utting sold the company in 2005 and rehired Smith in 2012.

"He was a very trusted member of our company," said Mr Utting.

"He had a very responsible job and had access to everything. Hardly anyone had access to our systems, and he was the guy who often did the stock checks.

"The whole thing has really devastated staff morale."

Mr Utting said he was pleased to be retrieving £30,000 from Smith, but said the emotional impact had been stark.

"It is very difficult when you have got trusted members of staff if they aren't honest," he said. "You have got to trust the people you work with, and I thought he was one of them."

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