BREAD baskets worth more than half a million pounds were stolen by two Warburtons employees who pocketed cash by getting the loot recycled, a court has heard.

Delivery driver Paul Rogers, and his boss Robert Cooper, both deny conspiracy to steal the equivalent of 60 lorry loads of baskets between October 2011 and March 2012, before selling them to PM Plastics in Darwen where they were “clipped down” to make polypropylene and high density polypropylene (HDPE).

Preston Crown Court heard two defendants hatched the plan along with Paul Matthews, the owner of PM Plastics, after Warburtons started recycling its own bread baskets there in November 2010.

The alleged scame started after a new universal basket was introduced by supplier Bakers Basco.

Prosecuting, Nicholas Courtney said that between October 2011 and March 2012, 70 trips were made to PM Plastics on 39 different days — and on all but one occasion Rogers was the driver, and the signature on the duty report was almost always that of Cooper.

From September 2011, suppliers, Bakers Basco, noticed a shortage of baskets — in particular from Warburtons, who appeared to have 90,000 baskets which were unaccounted for.

Mr Courtney said: “The precise number of baskets — and associated dollies — stolen during the conspiracy is impossible to calculate.

“After the theft was discovered, Bakers Basco ordered 150,000 new baskets and 4,000 dollies to replenish their stock.

“The replacement cost for this came to £562,700. However Warburtons negotiated a settlement of £220,000.”

On March 12, 2012, Bakers Basco received an anonymous phone call saying there was a large number of its baskets at the recycling company.

Recovery investigator Craig Hodges visited the site on March 19, saw the baskets and witnessed some being chipped for recycling.

He called police who arrested Matthews, and after an investigation of the premises, they recovered 5,340 baskets, three tonnes of chipped plastic and a variety of nuts, bolts and wheels.

Further enquiries led to the arrest of Cooper, aged 61, of Winchester Way, Breightmet, and Rogers, aged 34, of Parkway, Rochdale.

The court heard there had been “significant telephone traffic” between the pair.
Records from Warburtons’ vehicle tracking system, Microlise, also showed where Rogers had driven.

Before this system was introduced in October 2011, the prosecution says it is harder to pinpoint the timings of their calls — but said it was “highly unlikely” that the men waited for this system to be in place before starting the scam.

Sergeant Mark Cruise, the officer in the case, told the court that the baskets were always paid for in cash, and withdrawals logged from cash machines by Matthews “added up to thousands”.

Matthews, aged 46, of Jubilee Close, Darwen, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal.

The jury was warned this did not prove the other two men were involved.

The trial is expected to last at least three weeks. The case continues.