An employee wearing a gorilla mask snatched £34,000 from a safe at Stagecoach in Worthing in a midnight burglary and then got his wife handle the cash.
Vernon McLellan, 39, locked up and set the alarms at the bus operator depot on the seafront on May 30, 2017.
However he was caught on a concealed CCTV camera later that night committing his ‘inept but desperate’ burglary and was arrested soon after.
McLellan, of Chichester Close in Hove, and his estranged wife Louise McLellan, 38, also of Hove, pleaded guilty and appeared at Lewes Crown Court this afternoon for sentencing.
CCTV spots 'dark figure' wearing Stagecoach clothing
Prosecutor Robin Miric said: “There is CCTV at the premises which showed just after midnight a dark figure dressed in a Stagecoach suit had entered the premises.
“The visible CCTV cameras were disabled by the person who had entered.
“There was a secret camera inside the vault and that showed a person wearing a mask of a gorilla.”
When staff realised what had happened later that morning it was obvious who had carried out the burglary, because Mr McLellan had used his personal key fob for the alarm.
The total amount stolen – four day’s takings for the company – was put at £34,698.
Mr McLellan’s car was searched and police found about £10,000 in cash in it, the court heard.
He pleaded guilty to one charge of burglary.
Louise McLellan found napping in her car
Police also discovered fellow Stagecoach employee Mrs McLellan asleep in her car nearby, along with nearly £18,000 in cash.
Mrs McLellan – who at the time was a bus driver at the company’s Henfield branch – pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods.
Vernon McLellan only trying to pay off his wife's gambling debts?
Janice Brennan, defending Mr McLellan, said: “He and he alone falls to be punished for this rather mean offence of burglary against both defendants’ employer.
“This crime was an inept but desperate attempt to keep the family home.
“The money was intended to go purely to repay the gambling debts of his co-defendant.”
Mr McLellan, she said, has made ‘great progress’ and has sought to re-establish his life, now working in the private hire industry.
However Mrs McLellan’s defence barrister, Jordan Franks, said it was her assertion that the crime was not a result of her gambling addiction.
He added: “Although she was an employee of Stagecoach at the time that fact was not an intrinsic part of the offending.”
He cited her good character and asked that any prison sentence be suspended.
Judge: You chose to repay your employer with 'inept' burglary
Judge Christine Laing QC said she was not going to waste her time working out what the reasons behind the burglary were.
“You were paid by Stagecoach and you chose to repay them you by burgling the premises in what was clearly a pre-planned but utterly inept burglary and there you were with your car nearby and over £17,000 of the cash within it.
“These matters are so serious they clearly cross the custody threshold.”
However Judge Laing gave them credit for their guilty plea and the fact that most, if not all, of the cash had been recovered.
Mr McLellan was given a ten month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He must carry out 280 hours of unpaid work.
Mrs McLellan was given an eight month prison sentence, suspended for two years.