David Steadman appeared at Worthing Magistrates’ Court this afternoon and pleaded guilty to stealing £35,000 while employed by Adur District Council as town centres coordinator (Tuesday, October 18).
Melanie Wotton, prosecuting, said: “Over a relatively long period of time Mr Steadman had been taking money for his own benefit from the stall holders. That amounted to around £35,000.”
The court heard Steadman, 70, of East Street, Shoreham, was responsible for council-run markets across Adur, including the farmers’ and artisan markets in Shoreham. He took up the post around 2001.
His role involved collecting fees from stallholders, while at the privately-run Steyning Farmers’ Market he collected funds for hired equipment.
The prosecution said Mr Steadman had taken funds between 2009 and September of this year.
The theft only came to light following an internal investigation set up by the council in August into the future of markets across the area.
He was invited to a disciplinary hearing and made some admissions about the offence, the court heard.
Toby Brothers, defending, said the council was not in a position to calculate how much had been taken and Steadman had volunteered the figure of his own accord.
He said Steadman had estimated the figure at between £30,000 and £35,000, not the amount which appeared on the charge sheet.
Mr Brothers said his client, who had founded some of the markets, would shortly be in a position to repay the money as he was going through a divorce and the settlement would be ‘sufficient’ to cover it.
Steadman was sent to Lewes Crown Court for sentencing. He will next appear on November 15.
Chair of the bench Gavin Oclee-Brown said the offence was too serious for magistrates to deal with.
He noted breach of trust, length of time over which the offence took place and the amount involved.
Mr Brothers argued magistrates could accept jurisdiction, as the offence related to smaller amounts over a period of time, rather than a one-off incident.
Steadman was released on unconditional bail.
Speaking after the hearing, an Adur District Council spokesman said: “Mr Steadman’s behaviour was uncovered during the summer as part of an audit of market operations throughout the district, instigated by the council’s head of place and investment.
“As soon as the irregularities were revealed, the council suspended Mr Steadman and instigated disciplinary proceedings. Following these proceedings, Mr Steadman is no longer employed by the authority.
“The popular Shoreham farmers’ and artisan markets will continue to run as scheduled for the rest of the year, as will the Lancing Village Market. Details can be seen online atwww.adur-worthing.gov.uk/markets
“There will be no further comment from Adur District Council until the conclusion of the court proceedings, when Mr Steadman is sentenced at Lewes Crown Court in November.”