‘How is this a deterrent?’ Pub owner’s scorn as thieving bar manager dodges jail

Saul Sonko pictured with Jemima Withey during a beer, cider and gin festival at the Turks Head pub,

Saul Sonko pictured with Jemima Withey during a beer, cider and gin festival at the Turks Head pub, in Hasketon. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

A Suffolk pub owner has ridiculed the one-pound refund demanded from a bar manager who stole thousands from the till over five months.

Sulayman Sonko walked free from court on Monday, after a judge resisted sending him straight to prison.

His former employer denounced the lack of any jail time handed down to the 40-year-old, who stole more than £20,000 from the Turks Head, in Hasketon, to fund wagers on football matches.

Sonko, known as ‘Saul’, impressed colleagues and customers with his charm, while siphoning takings into his bank account.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that his dishonesty had devastating consequences for pub owner Jemima Withey, who was forced to put £30,000 of her savings into the business to keep it going.

Sonko, of Lachlan Green, Woodbridge, was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for one year, and ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work. With no available assets to seize, a nominal £1 confiscation order was made under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

In a victim impact statement read to the court, Mrs Withey said she had been “totally conned” by Sonko’s charm and had suffered “huge stress” as a result of his dishonesty.

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He had been charged with stealing £29,897.58 but, at a hearing in July, admitted taking £21,435 between March and August last year.

Following the sentencing, Mrs Withey, who uncovered the deception on CCTV, said: “I know we have to follow the letter of the law, but we are talking about a man who didn’t confess for 10 months.

“The police put a lot of energy and taxpayers’ money into proving a case against him.

“Although we realised we’d never be likely to get a penny back, because all the money went to the bookmakers, it’s a real shame the sentence wasn’t custodial.

“How will this deter someone from doing similar, if they know they won’t face time for it?

“I’m not criticising the court. Judges have to work within their guidelines.

“The police did an amazing job – in particular, Judith Oliver [of Suffolk Constabulary’s rural crime team]. Everyone worked hard to get a conviction and we’re happy to be moving on now.”

According to Mrs Withey, Sonko had pretended to put money in the safe, but could be seen on CCTV with a large roll of 20 pound notes in the other hand – or would sandwich a pile between paperwork and walk out.

She said Sonko originally protested his innocence, claiming he hadn’t time to deposit the money – a shortfall of which showed up in cash drawers, while the safe appeared deficient.

Sentencing Sonko, Recorder Ian Evans told him: “You were in a position of trust and you broke that trust to a high degree.

“Your explanation is that you were using the money to gamble to try and ensure better support for your family members and some non-family members who seemed to be dependent on you for cultural reasons in Gambia. That is clearly no justification for what happened.”

Jamie Sawyer, prosecuting, said Sonko had approached Mrs Withey for work and was taken on as front of house manager at a salary of £24,000.

Suspicions were aroused after the pub’s bank account was found to be short of money and, when checks were made, £13,000 was found in a drawer.

At the time, Sonko said he had been too busy to bank the money, and it was later discovered he had made 70 deposits, totalling £21,435, into his bank account.

Stephen Mather, for Sonko, said as well as having a partner in the UK, he had a partner and two children in Gambia.

He said Sonko, who has no previous convictions, sent money to support them, and to pay for schooling and clothing for eight other children that weren’t his.

He said Sonko had been gambling on football but had now stopped and was genuinely remorseful for his dishonesty.

Mrs Withey labelled the sentence “offensive”, but said she could take solace from Sonko’s offences being easily uncovered by potential employers.

“In this trade, where we do so much cash handling, it’s not unusual for people to search online for the name of someone they’re hiring – and anyone doing a background check will see what he’s been convicted of – but I still think he should have been jailed,” she added.

“I imagine the reason he wasn’t was because the prisons are full, and that he didn’t have a criminal record until now.”

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