Chef broke into own workplace and stole £2,700

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A Belfast chef broke into his own workplace to steal £2,700 in a desperate attempt to pay off debts, a court heard on Tuesday.

Johnathan Butler, 26, and his friend Andrew Baxter, 31, raided Cafe 1404 in the city’s Titanic Quarter, taking cash and a safe they then dumped in the nearby lough.

Both men were given three-month suspended jail terms for the burglary and ordered to pay back £1,350 each to the eatery’s owner.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard a member of staff arrived on March 4 to discover the cafe on Queens Road had been ransacked overnight.

The owner used CCTV footage to identify Butler, of Nevis Avenue in the city, who worked as a chef at the premises.

Baxter, from Donaldson Crescent in Belfast, was also picked out.

Both men were arrested and admitted breaking in, stealing money from the till and a cash box.

A prosecution lawyer said a safe was also smashed open and then thrown into Belfast Lough.

The pair told police they had used the money to pay off debts.

A defence lawyer stressed it was the first time either of them had been in trouble.

Deputy District Judge Austin Kennedy was told Butler and Baxter had owed cash to “unsavoury elements”.

“Mr Baxter described himself as being disgusted by his actions, he never thought he would stoop so low,” their counsel said.

“This is behaviour which is totally out of character, two men who have worked most of their lives and found themselves in a desperate situation.”

He added: “They made a dreadful series of decisions as a result of being under pressure from individuals in the community.

“They have repeatedly expressed their deep regret and they are prepared to do whatever they can to put that right.”

Imposing three-month sentences on both defendants, suspended for two years, Mr Kennedy highlighted Butler’s inside knowledge.

“Working in the cafe and knowing the arrangements to keep money in the safe was particularly appalling,” the judge said.

Ordering Butler and Baxter to pay back half of the stolen money each within 26 weeks, he warned any failure will result in imprisonment.