Light Fingers...

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Theft at work can be a major problem, as clearly demonstrated in a recent case at Sunseeker International in the UK, says Phil Draper.

JULY 2007

Theft at work is a serious issue for employers, but I couldn’t help laughing the other day when I got shown a story from a UK local newspaper that serves the Poole, Dorset area, the home of the UK’s largest and Europe’s fourth-largest production boatbuilder, Sunseeker International. The headline was ‘Worker steals £1m yacht one piece at a time’, which kind of says it all. The story referred to employee James Light, who had been working for the motoryacht builder for around 11 years and had over much of the period been systematically stealing materials and equipment while on the job. The reason for his actions, Bournemouth Crown Court learned during his trial, was so he could build his own ‘dreamboat’ at home.
You’ve got to agree it is funny, not least because you can’t help but ponder all sorts of questions. Sunseeker builds relatively big boats these days, so how was he going to get the engines home, never mind the moulds? Where was he going to build it? How would he launch it? How good would have the finished product have been? Surely he’d have had to steal a CE build plate at some point too!
Of course it’s all a complete nonsense. The guy was an electrician. Most of what he stole was apparently electrical items. He was caught when someone found a DVD player in his toolbox and when a lock-up garage of his was searched later police found around 100 boxes of similar stuff. In all the booty added up to around £55,000 (€80,000) worth of kit, including a wide-screen television, a 1.2m (4ft) radar mast, lifting straps and navigation lights. Maybe everything he stole was recovered or maybe this was only the stuff he hadn’t managed to sell.

“The theft issue is a serious one for boatbuilders — and any employer for that matter — for every one of these crooks that get caught, one can only imagine how many there are out there that get away with it!” 

I’ve heard similar stories before, although not quite as ambitious. The tale of a US yard springs to mind, although I can’t remember which one; the story came to me umpteenth hand, so no I can’t vouch for its authenticity. Whatever, it certainly has a ring of truth to it and makes for another giggle regardless.
The yarn goes that this builder of sportsboats and sportscruisers had a worker that was spotted stuffing a cabin mattress into his pick-up truck. The local sheriff was called in to investigate and he found several more round the guy’s swimming pool. And the mattresses weren’t the only illicit items on the property. A part-used drum of resin from the yard and a few rolls of CSM (chopped-strand mat) was on the ‘recovered’ list. Such was the rough-and-ready finish of the pool, it was assumed its liner had been laminated in situ! What took the proverbial biscuit was the en suite moulding from one of the yard’s bigger models that had been plumbed in to a makeshift pool house.
But, of course, no matter that our initial reaction when we hear such stories is to laugh. The theft issue is a serious one for boatbuilders — and any employer for that matter — for every one of these crooks that get caught, one can only imagine how many there are out there that get away with it!
And as demonstrated by ‘Mr Light Fingers’ the drip-drip effect of stuff leaving the yard can obviously build up over time to be quite a big deal. And it is not just about the value of goods stolen. Equipment and materials not being where they should be, when they should be, is bound to have an impact on productivity, not to mention delivery times. Plus the security measures that obviously must be put in place to stop the odd rogue are always going to cost and, owing to the absense of trust that accompanies them, they can’t help but have a negative impact on employer-employee relations.
You tend stop laughing when you consider the full implications!

© Phil Draper