Sunderland wedding venue boss stole customers’ deposits to pay off drug debts

Paul Hayes.
Paul Hayes.
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A WEDDING venue manager stole couples’ deposits to pay off drug dealers.

Paul Hayes, 32, had worked for Sunderland’s Quayside Exchange for seven years when his deceit came to light earlier this year, Sunderland magistrates heard.

Quayside Exchange - High Street, Sunderland.

Quayside Exchange - High Street, Sunderland.

Hayes, who was educated at the fee-paying Argyle House School, started using ecstasy and cocaine early last year, but found that his annual salary of £17,500 did not cover both his rent and drug habit.

He already had eight previous convictions for theft, the court heard, and was due to start a job in a “very similar organisation” this week.

Hayes was rumbled when general manager Andrew Gevorkian counted out cash to pay a supplier in front of staff before placing it in an envelope in the safe, on May 24.

When the company contacted them to say it was short, Mr Gevorkian checked CCTV footage to find Hayes, of The Royalty, Sunderland, had disconnected the alarm system and the camera overlooking the safe before helping himself.

Prosecutor Lee Poppett said Hayes had been on annual leave at the time and had no reason to be in the premises.

“Mr Hayes was interviewed under caution on May 7,” Mr Poppett said. “He accepted he went to the Quayside Exchange because he owed someone money. He turned off the CCTV and took the £40. It was his intention to pay the money back, but unfortunately he did not.” Further suspicions were raised when couples started contacting the High Street East venue who had booked weddings and functions.

A couple said they had paid £400 to Hayes on March 20, another had paid £295 on March 1 and a woman had paid £200 on March 21. All had been given receipts signed by Hayes, but he had pocketed the money.

Mr Poppett said: “Mr Hayes said he had a problem with drug addiction. He had days when he had gone to work and couldn’t actually remember being there.

“He said he could not recall what he did with the money, but he then conceded that he may well have taken the money.”

In total, it was agreed that Hayes had taken £935 and admitted a sample count of theft from employer. In mitigation, Chris Wilson said: “Unfortunately, he committed a number of offences to discharge a debt to a drug dealer who put him under significant pressure, and, possibly duress.

“He was employed for seven years in a number of capacities. He had an opportunity for life to work for that organisation. He had the potential to become a director. Through his own stupidity, he appears before this court.

“Potentially, this can impact heavily on his future. I’m aware he has sought an employment in a similar industry and was due to commence on Monday.”

Mr Wilson added: “He has an awareness that it was wrong. It was his whole intention he was going to make full repayment to the organisation. Put very simply, he was using the money of the organisation almost like a payday loan company.”

Sentencing Hayes to 18 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, with 100 hours of unpaid work, chairman Bob Francis said: “You accepted money from customers and did not record it, therefore you caused the customers distress and the company you worked for will be getting a bad name.

“You have eight previous convictions for theft and we have read that you have not complied with court orders in the past.

“If you do not co-operate, you will walk straight to Durham. You are jolly lucky you aren’t going off there today.”

Hayes was also told to pay £935 compensation, £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge.

When the Echo approached him at his home, Hayes denied having been to court and said he knew nothing about the case.