Published: 16:00, 24 January 2014
A sacked Shepway council worker plotted revenge for his dismissal... and plundered thousands of pounds from parking meters.
Technical officer Matthew Donovan, 42, had lost his post monitoring the meters at car parks.
But he kept the hi-vis vest with the council logo and began emptying the machines of £1 coins, which he then took to a post office to change into notes.
But Canterbury Crown Court heard Shepway District Council has no accurate knowledge of how much money had been taken in the widespread scam - but it is believed to be as much as £150,000.
Donovan, of Lodge Lees Farm, Lodge Lane, Denton, received a 10-week jail sentence -suspended for two years - after admitting stealing £12,000.
"He has shown remorse for what was an act which was out of character... his bosses, who are fully aware of all the offences, still place a high degree of trust in him..." - Sam Blom-Cooper
It was also revealed Donovan - who went on to work for a water company - has previous convictions for theft, fraud, making off without payment, stealing a car, driving recklessly and shoplifting dating back to the early 1990s.
He was appointed to Shepway council in 2008, trained for his role and was one of only two people trusted with keys to the meters.
Prosecutor Ian Foinette said the council operated two types of machines - but only one type recorded how much was paid into them.
He said the second model only recorded if it had been opened - "but didn't actually record the amount of money which had gone into the machine".
In April 2011, Donovan left his job but "unauthorised access" to parking machines continued "usually in the early evenings."
The first theft was on August 1, when £741.50 was taken from a machine in Greatstone - and Donovan later took a bag of £1 coins to a Post Office in Canterbury.
Mr Foinette said: "He asked to change them into notes and was told it couldn't be done unless he had an account. He then asked if he could change them into Euros and was told that was permitted."
Bizarrely, after handing over £1714.91 for €1915, he then swapped those for cash - losing £184 in the exchange.
Donovan later took £3339.80 from other machines - and the prosecution said he had pocketed at least £12,000.
One of his friends, head chef Andrew Gainey, 41, of The Street, Denton also admitted stealing more than £500 from another machine in Folkestone.
He was spotted in February 2012 by a man having a cigarette overlooking a car park and realised the machine was being emptied by a man driving a Land Rover Discovery.
He reported his suspicions and the scam was revealed. Police later arrested chef Gainey after looking at CCTV footage.
Later in February, CCTV footage revealed Donovan had also gone to another car park near the harbour in Folkestone wearing his Shepway council hi-vis vest and pocketed £569.
In March 2012, Donovan was arrested and claimed he had kept the vest and council money boxes because he hoped to be reinstated.
Minka Braun, for Donovan, claimed he faced financial difficulties after losing his council job and felt aggrieved.
"While working for Shepway District Council he had become aware that others employed by the council were involved in thefts from the council. He became involved in the thefts after leaving the council."
She said he later joined a water firm, but had to quit after his bosses became aware of his parking meter thefts.
Ms Minka added his 10-year marriage also ended when his wife found out about the scam.
Sam Blom-Cooper, for Gainey, said he was given information about the fact some of the parking meters were insecure and "gave into temptation".
The father-of-two is a £26,000-a-year head chef with the Compass Group and has managed to pay off most of his £70,000 personal debt.
"He has shown remorse for what was an act which was out of character," he said. "And his bosses, who are fully aware of all the offences, still place a high degree of trust in him."
Mr Blom-Cooper said Gainey is now in line for a promotion with a large supermarket chain.
Donovan was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £800 in costs within six months. Gainey was given a conditional discharge and told to pay £400 costs.