Grave digger stole diesel

Michael Lawson

Michael Lawson

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A GRAVE digger has been sacked by a council after 21 years service for stealing diesel from its machines and using a work JCB digger to visit his home.

Michael Lawson – who worked at Hartlepool Borough Council’s Stranton Cemetery, off Brierton Lane, in Hartlepool – used the JCB digger to drive to his home in Dunoon Road, in the Owton Manor area and then on to another address, justices heard.

The 45-year-old also stole diesel from his employers on a weekly basis, with more than 3,000 litres being unaccounted for.

He was eventually caught with some canisters of fuel at his house after an anonymous tip-off to his bosses.

His workmate Leslie Anthony Wellburn, 41, who was employed by the council via an agency, was also found to be taking the diesel, and admitted using a sock to drain the “dregs” from the local authority machines.

Today council bosses confirmed the pair had been dismissed with a spokesman saying: “We can confirm that one Hartlepool Borough Council employee and one member of staff employed via an agency have been dismissed following theft of the council’s resources, which was uncovered by the council’s own checking procedures.

“This court case should serve as a clear warning that the council does not tolerate such activity and takes the toughest possible action against it.”

Prosecuting, Vicky Wilson told Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court: “Lawson and Wellburn were Hartlepool Borough Council employees working in the cemetery and were allocated a quantity of diesel.

“It was noted on the tracker of the JCB that it was being driven out of the cemetery onto the road and went to his address and then to another address. Also a large quantity of diesel went missing over a period of time and the defendant accepted that he had removed diesel when interviewed. Lawson removed diesel on a weekly basis, some 3,125 litres. Wellburn accepted that he had been taking fuel from the site.”

Lawson pleaded guilty to theft of diesel and refuse sacks on December 8 last year, and taking a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent, driving without insurance and driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence, all on October 26 last year.

Wellburn, 41, of Kings Road, North Ormesby, Middlesbrough, admitted theft of diesel on August 1 last year.

Barry Gray, mitigating for Lawson, said his client only drove the digger out of the graveyard in a “mercy dash” to help his disabled wife with whom he lives with their two grown-up children.

“Mr Lawson has worked as a grave digger for 21 years and this service has been without any other blemish.”

He added that on another occasion he took two five litre cans of diesel which he’d been asked to take for another person.

Neil Taylor, mitigating for Wellburn, said: “He was taking the dregs out of the bottom of the diesel canister, pouring it through a sock and into a can. He took it home thinking that nobody would mind - it was the rubbish at the bottom of the can. He was selling it on, or sometimes he’d give it to friends who take him fishing.”

Chairman of the magistrates’ bench Patricia Hutchison sentenced Lawson, of Dunoon Road, Hartlepool, to a 12-month community order with 180-hours unpaid work.

Wellburn, of Kings Road, North Ormesby, Middlesbrough, was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 80-hours unpaid work.

A third man, former bus driver Stanley Thompson, 68, of Boscombe Gardens, Hemlington, in Middlesbrough, pleaded guilty to stealing diesel on February 2, after obtaining it from Wellburn, and was fined £70, ordered to pay £85 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.