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Lehi Drummond siphoned off nearly £30,000 in just five months, leaving his employer working 16-hour days to make ends meet
A trusted employee stole almost £30,000 from a family-run Post Office whose owner treated him “like a son”.
Lehi Drummond, 38, worked at Somerton Stores in Newport when he stole the huge sum from his employer Jatander Bajwa, 66, over a five-month period.
He initially denied stealing the money, which he siphoned from a Post Office account to another account, but when auditors came to investigate the missing money he admitted to being a thief.
A sentencing hearing at Newport Crown Court on Tuesday heard Drummond was a chronic alcoholic who claimed to be “out of control”.
But Mr Bajwa and his family have been left “devastated” by the theft and now have to shell out £1,000 a month just to keep the business afloat.
Prosecutor Peter Donnison said Drummond was employed as a cashier and was responsible for cashing up and totalling Post Office funds, which were held in an account called SP1.
The missing money became evident in May 2018 when Mr Bajwa was forced to call Post Office management for more cash when he found there was not enough money to pay pensions.
Auditors visited the Somerton arias store the next day to investigate the accounts and found a total of £29,722.19 was missing and had been transferred to a separate account named SP2.
It appeared Mr Bajwa’s cashier code was used to make the transfers but when CCTV was checked at the time of the transfers Drummond was seen behind Mr Bajwa’s computer terminal making the transactions.
He was confronted by Mr Bajwa and admitted to taking the money – a position he maintained in his interview with police. He later pleaded guilty to theft from an employee at Newport Magistrates’ Court.
Mr Donnison added: “Mr Bajwa has suffered tremendously because of this. He was initially suspended from work and he now has to pay back money that has been taken as the ultimate responsibility lies with him.
“He says he has to work extra hours hours because he can’t afford to pay for staff.
“At the time this incident was discovered he was in the process of selling the business but the buyer pulled out having heard what was going on.”
Defence barrister Gareth Williams told the court his client’s life had “spiralled out of control” and said Drummond was a chronic alcoholic at the time of the offences but was now sorry and remorseful for his actions.
He said: “He’s full of self-loathing because of the harm and issues he has caused.
“At the time he was committing the offence he wasn’t thinking – he was an addict feeding his own addiction and not thinking about the consequences.”
Drummond, of Coleridge Green, Cwmbran , has been seeking help from mental health charities and has been sober since October last year, the court heard.
The court heard he now receives £640 in benefits a month and would be unlikely to ever be in a position to pay the money back.
Sentencing, Judge Jeremy Jenkins said: “Like most establishments that provide essential services to people who live in a community it’s the type of business that feels the impact of financial loss particularly severely.”
Despite Drummond’s offending Judge Jenkins said he was impressed by his efforts to get help for alcoholism.
The defendant was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for 12 months. He was also made subject to a 12-month community order with a four-month curfew.
He was also ordered to pay costs of £340 and compensation of £100 a month to Mr Bajwa for 12 months.
Speaking after the hearing Mr Bajwa’s son Amarander Bajwa, 34, said he thought the sentence was “disgusting”.
He said: “[Drummond] was a friend of ours for 10 years and used to eat at the dinner table with us.
“It’s devastating because this guy was like a brother to me and a son to my mum and dad. It was like the closest person you know doing this to you and I couldn’t believe it at first.
“He wouldn’t tell me why he did it and he hasn’t given us any of the money back or tried to get in touch with us to say sorry.
“After this happened the Post Office had to close for four months so we lost the footfall and the money coming in. If my dad doesn’t pay the money back they will lose the business. He now works 5am to 9pm six days a week.”