Fraudster 'ratted out' bistro owner
The owner of a top-rated bistro smelled a rat when a customer pulled a rodent from his pocket and shouted out in alarm in an attempt to get a free meal.
Restaurateur Kevin Smith, 48, branded fraudster Christopher Baker a "scumbag" for trying the trick, saying it could have ruined the business he has built up over seven years.
Baker, 28, from Shields Place, Houghton, Tyne and Wear, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation at Sunderland Magistrates' Court last week, officials confirmed.
He was handed a 12-month community order with a rehabilitation activity requirement, ordered to pay a £60 victim surcharge and £7.25 compensation - the cost of his meal - to the restaurant.
Furious Mr Smith recalled how Baker - already barred from Borneo Bistro in Sunderland - sneaked in on Valentine's Day and ordered some of the popular international food from the menu.
The bistro, which is one of Sunderland's top rated restaurants on Trip Advisor, has a five-star rating and attracts Premier League footballers, was busy and Baker waited for two nearby tables to leave before attempting the con.
He was caught on CCTV pulling a rat from his pocket and setting it on the floor, before shouting out, saying he wanted his money back.
Mr Smith said Baker then left, before returning to demand back the £7.25 he had spent.
By then the restaurant owner had spotted the black and white rat looked suspiciously clean and quickly identified it as a pet. Using a towel, he scooped up the tame rodent and put it in a box with airholes.
"It looked like it had just had its hair done," Mr Smith said.
Pest control experts later agreed it looked like a pet and it was released into the wild, far from the city centre, later.
Police tracked Baker down from the CCTV images and he was charged with fraud.
Mr Smith said: "It's shocking, isn't it? I'm absolutely flabbergasted myself.
"It could have ruined my business if it wasn't so obvious.
"He was sat right underneath my camera which was absolute stupidity.
"We have never had trouble with pests before, and then one scumbag comes along like that."
Mr Smith, whose love of travel has influenced the menu at his bistro so that it encompasses 11 nationalities, said: "These people have no place in society when there are people like us paying taxes.
"I have staff and pay their salaries. If I had to close they would lose their jobs."
Mr Smith bore no ill will to the rat, which was taken away by a pest controller, who later texted to say the animal had been released into the wild.
"I was pleased about it, I didn't want any harm to come to it."