Senior fire officer stole £50,000 of vital equipment during pandemic to sell on eBay

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FILE PICTURE - Mike Todhunter, received his 20 years long service and good conduct medals at Cockermouth Fire Station; Wednesday 13th April 2011.  See SWNS story SWLEfireman.  A senior fireman stole goods worth more than £50,000 from the fire service including vital PPE kit needed by colleagues working through the pandemic, a court heard.  Michael Todhunter, 50, stashed the stolen hoard in his garage and sold it on eBay, leaving colleagues who assessed the thefts
Mike Todhunter stole goods worth more than £50,000 from Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service and sold them on eBay. (SWNS)

A senior fireman has been jailed after stealing vital equipment, including PPE needed by his colleagues during the COVID pandemic, worth more than £50,000 from the fire service.

Michael Todhunter, 50, took defribillators, axes, helmets and breathing apparatus and hid it in his garage, before selling it on eBay, a court heard.

He was caught out when the specialist firm that sold equipment to the fire service spotted it was being sold online. They matched serial numbers on respirators to those being sold, tracing the account to Todhunter, and police raided his home in Cockermouth, Cumbria, in October last year. 

The officers and senior firefighters present were "shocked" by the quantity of stolen kit they found, Carlisle Crown Court heard.

Todhunter, who had served with Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service for more than 30 years, has been jailed for 16 months after admitting two counts of theft and one of fraud.

Todhunter, 50, had served with Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service for more than 30 years. (SWNS)
Todhunter, 50, had served with Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service for more than 30 years. (SWNS)

In a statement read to the court, a senior fire service chief Stuart Hook said the loss of the equipment had affected the ability of the service to carry out its operations, with much of the stolen kit essential for day-to-day operations. 

At the time of the thefts, PPE kit was hard to source because of the pandemic and it had been bought to protect firefighters, he said.

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"The impact of his actions have been far-reaching and are still ongoing," he said.

"We have suffered a significant financial cost to replace the stolen equipment, as well as the aftermath of colleagues feeling so let down."

Sean Harkin, defending, said Todhunter - who had worked on disasters such as the Cockermouth flooding in 2009 and the Keswick school bus crash the following year - was a man of "positive good character" and felt genuine remorse.

Judge Nicholas Barker noted the thefts had been assessed as being at least having a value of £50,000, but the actual value of the equipment stolen was likely to be more.

He said: "This was a determined campaign by you. This was no opportunistic, fleeting event... this equipment, removed from the service and recovered from your garage, was taken over an extensive period of time.

"I have to bear in the mind the nature of the organisation you stole from. It was a breach of trust over many, many months.

"There must have been many, many individual acts of removal...In my judgement, it is simply not possible to pass a sentence other than an immediate custodial sentence."

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