A gambling-addicted shop manager brought terror to Scarborough town centre after making a hoax 999 call claiming to have been robbed at knifepoint.
Armed police rushed to the e-cig store in Newborough and found Lee Calden, 30, with a cut above his eye.
Calden, of Scholes Park Road, claimed he had been attacked by two knife-wielding thugs who had burst into the store and stolen £3,200 from the shop’s safe.
But there was no robbery and Calden – who was in the throes of a £20,000 gambling blitz – had made everything up after stealing the money himself, York Crown Court heard.
Police instantly launched an emergency response and sent out a media warning that two violent robbers were on the loose, said prosecutor Chloe Fairley.
When they arrived at the shop, Calden was nursing a head injury. An ambulance took him to hospital for minor treatment and he gave officers a description of the “robbers” which matched those of two men captured on CCTV walking past the store at about the time of the hoax incident. The innocent men were arrested and held in custody for seven hours before being released without charge, added Ms Fairley.
The court heard the two men had endured an “ordeal in the extreme” after being framed for a robbery they didn’t commit.
Police discovered Calden had a rampant gambling habit and a previous conviction for stealing from his former employer. Furthermore, CCTV analysis showed no signs of a robbery at the shop.
Calden was duly arrested and charged with perverting the course of justice. He initially denied the offence but pleaded guilty a few weeks before trial.
Ms Fairley said the cut to Calden’s head must have been self-inflicted as part of his outrageous ruse.
He dialled 999 at about 10.40am on June 30 last year “to report there had been a knifepoint robbery in the shop”.
Police immediately launched a high-cost operation using more than 70 hours of police resources including firearms officers who were called in from Stokesley.
Ms Fairley said enquiries showed the father-of-two was placing large-scale bets, in excess of £20,000, during an 18-day period, prior to the fake robbery, with a loss of £2,500.
She added it was obvious that Calden had stolen the cash to offset those losses.
The court heard that in December 2013, Calden stole £1,700 from a safe at South Cliff Golf Club, where he worked as a bar supervisor. He raided the safe during another gambling spree.
Calden also denied that offence but was found guilty by a jury in October 2014 and given a six-month suspended jail term.
The e-cig company had “suffered very substantially” due to the theft and had to close one of its other stores in Scarborough.
His lawyer Keith Whitehouse said Calden – who has latterly been working for Land Rover – had been fighting his addiction for a long time and is getting help from a gambling-support group, but was “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
Judge Alistair Macdonald QC blasted Calden for wasting hard-pressed police resources and causing a major scare in a town packed with shoppers and tourists at peak season.
Calden was jailed for 15 months on Friday.