A BISTRO owner “smelled a rat” after a punter took a rodent from his pocket and let it loose in a packed restaurant to get out of paying for his meal.
Staff and customers in the popular Borneo Bistro, on Hylton Road, were left shocked when fraudster Christopher Baker jumped out of his seat and started shouting about a rat, Sunderland magistrates heard.
But the 28-year-old was caught on CCTV releasing the pet rodent onto the floor, and he was recognised by owner Kevin Smith, who had previously barred him from the premises.
Prosecutor Lee Poppett said: “On February 14 – Valentine’s Day – Mr Baker has attended the restaurant, ordered a buffet for one and a bottle of water.
“He picked his food up and found a seat at a table on his own at the back of the restaurant.
“At shortly before 4pm he suddenly jumps up and shouts ‘It’s a rat. I’m not eating here, I want my money back’. And indeed, there is a rat on the floor.”
Mr Smith, perhaps, smelled a rat at this particular point.Prosecutor Lee Poppett
Baker then walks out of the restaurant, only to return later to ask for a refund of the £7.25, he spent.
“Mr Smith perhaps smelled a rat at this particular point and he retrieved the rat from the floor. It was a black and white rat, very calm. It did not appear to be wild at all. Acorn Pest Control attended and they said it appeared to be a pet.
“Mr Smith viewed the CCTV and saw the defendant fiddling in his pocket. He waited until a family moved from the table next to him and retrieved what appeared to be a rat from his pocket and dropped it on the floor. He then jumped out of his seat.”
In a victim statement read out in court, Mr Smith said the potential damage to his business’s reputation could have been “catastrophic” and that what he had built up over the last seven years could have been ruined by one man.
Baker was arrested and told police that he had bought the rat from a pet shop as a gift for his daughter. He then went to the restaurant and placed the rodent in his pocket so that staff would be unable to see it.
“He then claimed that whilst he’s been eating, the rat has bitten his finger and escaped from his pocket in an accident,”
Mr Poppett said. “He panicked and started shouting about the rat then ran off. He then returned to the restaurant and asked for his money back.”
Baker, of Shields Place, Houghton, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation.
“We do deal with some unusual cases from time to time,” Willie Johnstone, defending, said. “Christopher, on that day, had been drinking heavily and unfortunately he decided to buy a rat for his daughter by way of a present.
“Unfortunately, he then decided to go for a meal. He sat down and ate his meal. When he had finished the meal, he took the rat out and said it bit him. It jumped to the floor. He panicked and left the restaurant. He is very remorseful for his behaviour.”
Baker was sentenced to a 12-month community order with supervision and was told to pay a £60 victim surcharge and £7.25 in compensation to Mr Smith. He was also banned from going to the restaurant for a year.
Chairman of the bench, Derek Moss, said: “This is a very serious matter as what you have done here could in a split-second have ruined this man’s business, which he has worked for years to build up a reputation for.”
‘People like him deserve the death penalty’
THE furious owner of Borneo Bistro has branded fraudster Christopher Baker “the scum of the earth” and said he feared he would lose his business.
Speaking after the case, Kevin Smith told the Echo how he had previously barred Baker from his restaurant for being drunk.
But he said the crook slipped through the net on February 14, when one of his three staff served him, before he let a rat loose on the premises.
“He is just the scum of the earth,” Kevin, 47, said. “He could have destroyed the reputation I have built up over seven years.
“I was devastated. I thought ‘that’s it my business is gone’. I didn’t sleep that night.
“People like him deserve the death penalty. As far as I’m concerned, he shouldn’t be in our society.
“He is no use to anybody and he’s caused nothing but grief.
“I find it unbelievable that someone could be willing to go to those lengths for a free meal.”
Kevin, who lives in Roker, also praised the police for how they dealt with the case.
“They sent three officers down here and were absolutely amazing,” he said.
As for the fate of the rogue rat, Kevin picked it up and placed it in a box with breathing holes.
“It was clear it wasn’t a wild rat,” Kevin added. “It was very clean, like it had just had a haircut, and was able to pick it up myself,”
The rat was taken away by Acord Pest Control, who confirmed it was a pet, and promised to let it out in the wild away from Sunderland, the following day.