CASHEW thefts could eventually have cost workers at a nut company their jobs, a Swindon court heard.

It came as two men were sentenced for their part in a scheme that saw £16,000-worth of nuts, including cashews and almonds, stolen from an Elstree Way industrial estate firm that supplied snacks to pubs, hotels and transport companies.

Swindon Crown Court was told Benjamin Fitchett, a team leader at Halo Foods, would come into work 90 minutes early and used a company forklift to shift boxes of nuts into a waiting van. He enlisted the help of former employee Jerry Cardozo to sell the snacks on the black market.

But the pair managed to avoid an immediate jail term, after the court heard both were of previous good character and were sorry for what they had done.

The court heard the company, which has since been sold, was already in financial difficulty. Although it could not be said that any workers had lost their jobs as a direct result of the thefts, had the pair continued Mr Sly said jobs might have had to go.

Prosecuting, Tim Hills said 29-year-old Fitchett had worked at Halo Foods since 2009, was viewed by his bosses as hardworking and trustworthy – entrusted with keys to the premises. Cardozo, a forklift truck driver, had worked for Fitchett from July 2015 to June 2017.

In September of that year, the firm installed CCTV. Five months later, an annual stocktake revealed items going missing.

When he checked the CCTV, manager Richard Sly was said to have been shocked and surprised to see Fitchett coming in earlier than his usual clock-in time of 5am and shifting boxes of stolen stock into a waiting vehicle. Nine incidents could be found of Fitchett taking stock between October 2017 and February 2018, with an estimated value of £16,000. Interviewed by his boss, Fitchett confessed to taking the nuts. Mr Hills said: “He was really sorry. He had let everyone down and he had been stupid.”

An anonymous letter led the company to former employee Cardozo. When police raided his home, they found three boxes of nuts and messages from Fitchett on his mobile phone indicating he had been involved in the resale of the snacks.

Fitchett, of Carver Close, pleaded guilty to theft. Cardozo, 45, of Ipswich Street, admitted handling stolen goods.

Anne-Marie Critchley, for Fitchett, said her client had been in financial difficulty. The dad-of-two had sold the nuts on to raise funds to fight a family court case concerning his young daughter and to cover fuel costs to go and see the youngster. He had fully admitted the thefts and it was a testament to his good character that he had been quickly able to find new employment as a driver.

Emma Handslip, for Cardozo, said he had got involved in the scam after being approached by an emotional Fitchett. He had been told the company had let his former boss take the nuts.

“There is certainly an element of naivety, but he accepts his role,” she said.

“He has made a catastrophic mistake with an impact on all those around him. But this is a man who can pay back to the community.”

Judge Peter Crabtree OBE sentenced Fitchett to 10 months imprisonment suspended for a year, also ordering him to do 200 hours’ unpaid work. Cardozo received a six-month jail term suspended for a year and must complete 120 hours’ unpaid work.