Published: 17:30, 01 November 2017
| Updated: 17:36, 01 November 2017
A cash collector accused with the estranged husband of “Queen of Benefits” Cheryl Prudham of stealing money from car parks has been acquitted.
Jacob Underdown was alleged to have stolen more than £4,600 from car parks despite “tamper proof” boxes being used.
Maidstone Crown Court heard Mr Underdown and Robert Prudham were supposed to take all of the money to a central point at Ashford Designer Outlet to be counted.
The charges involved mostly coins collected from Kent railway stations in Borough Green, Chatham, Rainham, Hildenborough, Longfield, Maidstone East, Meopham, Sevenoaks and Orpington and also at Fremlin Walk in Maidstone.
They also concerned stealing cash from Bromley North, Eltham and Mottingham.
Prosecutor Oliver Doherty said the case was about abuse of trust of employees of Meteor Parking Ltd charged with emptying the parking machines.
The boxes should have been tamper proof and it should not have been possible to take money out of them without it being noticed, he said.
“But the tamper proof system didn’t work,” Mr Doherty told a jury at Maidstone Crown Court. “Therefore, it was possible for people to remove money and the seal to remain in place. “The Crown say the money went missing before it arrived at the central location - between the point of collection and that location.”
Former welder Mr Underdown, of Warden Bay, Sheppey, denied three theft charges and was acquitted within 43 minutes of the jury retiring.
Robert Prudham, 32, of Milton Street, Maidstone, has pleaded guilty to four theft charges and mother-of-12 Cheryl Prudham, 34, now of Warrington, Cheshire, has admitted handling stolen cash.
Mr Doherty said Mr Underdown, 28, and Robert Prudham made collections together and were in the van together.
“There is no dispute the money was stolen and no dispute the days on which the money was stolen,” he said. “There is no dispute Mr Prudham was involved in the theft.
“The issue for you is: Was Mr Underdown a participant, acting jointly with Mr Prudham?
“On one occasion there was £2,000 in coins. That is a large amount of money in coins. The Crown say it would have been impossible for one party to have stolen that money, having taken it out of the cashbox, without the other party knowing.”
Mr Doherty said £2,000 in £1 coins weighed 19 kilos. Within days of cash going missing, Mr Underdown was alleged to have paid some of it into his bank account.
On February 14, 2014, £830 was deposited. When police went to his home they found an envelope with his name on containing £56. On a dressing table in the spare room were “lots of piles of coins”.
There was £65.50 in 50p coins, £20 in 20p coins and £3.70 in 10p coins.
He, along with Prudham, was alleged to have stolen a total of £4,654 in February 2014.
The court heard he was employed through Red Eagle Recruitment in January 2014, having worked for Meteor’s parent company Vinci Services since April 2013.
Mr Doherty said Cheryl Prudham had paid just over £2,241 to a travel company for a holiday.
Robert Prudham had 26 previous convictions, 12 of which were for dishonesty.
When interviewed, Mr Underdown said he had worked with Prudham for just over a week but had no idea he had stolen the parking money.
“If he had done it, I didn’t know,” he said. “I ain’t done it. I wouldn’t do it. That’s my job at the end of the day. That’s my livelihood.”
He said “Rob” spoke about a holiday he was going on with his missus and family, and had £3,000 left to pay. “He said he was going to Spain full board because he had 10 kids. He said ‘They have cost us £10,000’.”
Mr Underdown left the court sobbing following his acquittal.
Judge Philip Statman commented: “I said at the beginning of the case nothing is straight forward.”
The Prudhams will be sentenced on a date to be arranged.
Cheryl Prudham, who has lived in Gravesend and Teynham, was given the Queen of Benefits title after raking in more than £40,000 a year in benefits and buying lavish gifts for her children.
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