THE MANAGER of a Workington plumbing and heating firm stole more than £84,000 from the business over two and a half years.

Dale Hooper, 38, whose background included the death of his parents when he was a teenager, made an attempt on his own life when his dishonesty was exposed by an anonymous tip-off to his bosses, Carlisle Crown Court heard.

He admitted theft.

Emily Land, prosecuting, said the defendant was employed by CHP Supplies in Workington for 18 years and worked his way up to become branch manager.

But on January 31 last year, a director received an anonymous phone call.

“The caller said there was suspicious activity at the Workington branch, with stock ‘going out of the back door',” said the prosecutor.

This led to the director instigating stock checks on selected items, as well as making an unannounced visit to the Workington store. “The defendant was not there,” said the barrister.

Staff said Hooper was at the bank as the director explained that he needed to check the store’s warehouse following an anonymous tip-off. This confirmed that various items of stock were missing.

When the director saw Hooper, he asked him to explain the missing stock, but the defendant left the store. “Fifteen to 20 minutes later, the defendant’s wife attended the store, upset," continued Miss Land.

"She said he [the defendant] had rang and said he was going to kill himself; he had taken an overdose and tried to kill himself.”

After being “talked down,” he had gone to hospital.

The defendant, of John Street, Workington, committed the theft between September 2020 and February of last year. It involved him taking cash for products but then not putting the sale through the system, or taking cash for items never supplied.

The firm's total loss due to Hooper's theft was £84,368.

In an impact statement, a director from CHP Supplies said bosses had seriously considered closing the store as a result of the theft, fearing what happened may trigger rumours that the entire company was unsafe.

It had become difficult to attract new workers to the branch.

“Our directors were put under huge and unnecessary stress,” said the statement. The theft also caused pressure for staff who had to be work temporarily in Workington, away from their families.

There was still a long way to go repair the damage, which the director blamed on Hooper's "personal greed" and his desire for a "luxury lifestyle at someone else’s expense."

Marion Weir, defending, said Hooper had hoped to repay the money he stole. He recognised the impact of his offending and felt “deeply ashamed.” The barrister said Hooper’s mental health and his poor problem solving were factors in his offending.

When he was 13, Hooper’s mother died and then, when he was 17, his father also died and this prompted Hooper to steal to pay the mortgage on his family home, the court heard.

The recent theft happened as he went through a relationship breakdown.

Judge Michael Fanning noted the defendant’s history of depression, and the tragic double blow he had suffered as a teenager.

“It’s easy for people to be disparaging about depression but it’s a very real illness and in your case has had to be addressed with medication,” said the judge.

Hooper had spent the money he stole on high-value goods – such as watches and designer clothing, goods he could not otherwise afford.

The judge said people can not run businesses if they can not trust their managers, though theft on such a scale was thankfully rare.

But bearing in mind Hooper’s tragic background and his mental health challenges, said the judge, and his recent efforts to address his issues, Judge Fanning imposed a two-year jail term, suspended for two years.

The sentence includes 200 hours of unpaid work and up to 15 rehabilitation activity days.

Hooper must return to court on May 21 as prosecutors begin the process of reclaiming the money he stole through Proceeds of Crime legislation.