A 25-year-old former international hockey player has been found guilty of stealing up to £450 of groceries from Sainsbury’s by regularly self-scanning all the items in his basket as loose onions.
Nicholas Long, who now works as a City recruitment consultant, was given 180 hours community service and ordered to pay £250 after admitting using the scam 20 times over a three-month period earlier this year.
Long was eventually caught on 7 August when a security guard spotted him trying to use a self-service checkout to scan £22 worth of items as loose onions - something the store was not actually selling at the time.
He later admitted to repeatedly using the technique at Sainsbury’s stores in the past and confessed that it was fears about losing his job - as well as money worries over his girlfriend’s pregnancy and a £10,000 debt from his father’s failing business - that had driven him to theft.
Mr Long’s solicitor Angus Mathieson told the Old Bailey: “It was a stupid thing he has done. He was not getting a stupid amount, not substituting champagne or anything like that, but just getting an avocado and claiming it was an onion.”
Mr Mathieson added: “He had got a good job at the time, but committed an offence as he felt his job was under threat and he was imminently likely to be made redundant… His girlfriend had become pregnant and he was worried about money, because in addition he had debts.”
Prosecutor Denise Murrin said Long had previous convictions for shoplifting in 2010 and 2011, and had been caught lifting a coat from John Lewis and trying to scan a bottle of champagne as bleach. He had also been caught stealing a mobile phone from a handbag at a private party in 2012.
Judge Paul Worsley QC branded Long a “persistent thief” and warned him he was on the edge of a prison sentence.
He said: “Stealing from a supermarket is always serious; it pushes up the cost of goods up for honest members of the public who have to pay to cover the cost of those goods lost through dishonesty”.
He added: “You are an otherwise respectable young man who achieved international honours in hockey, so it is sad to see you before the courts… But if you persist in taking other people’s property - whether a large organisation like Sainsbury’s or individual’s - you will have to go to prison.”