Fake-cash couple "operated as a team" to con West Yorkshire stores

A couple who "operated as a team" using fake money to buy goods across West Yorkshire before returning them for refunds have been jailed.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 11:54 am

Rory Whitlock and Melanie Watson targeted Lidl in Ossett and Ikea in Birstall snapping up hundreds of pounds worth of items before returning them, sometimes immediately after buying them.

They pleaded guilty to multiple counts of using counterfeit money and converting criminal property.

Prosecutor Jemima Stephenson told Leeds Crown Court that the pair were first spotted in Ikea in Birstall on the evening of March 3 last year.

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The couple targeted Lidl in Ossett.

Whitlock and Watson entered the shop together but went to the check outs separately.

Whitlock bought £90 worth of items using five £20 notes, while Watson bought £133 worth of good using seven £20 notes.

They both then went straight to the refund area to say they had changed their minds.

The refunds were given, but a team leader became suspicious so checked the tills and found the notes were all fake.

Both suspects had left the store by that time.

Watson then returned to Ikea a week later and bought another £200 worth of goods using fake cash.

But on this occasion, the staff tested the notes using an ultra violet light and realised they were counterfeit. Watson then claimed she had been given the money by her husband who was given the cash for a job.

She left the store but she was later identified.

Watson also bought £106 from a Next store in Dewsbury in cash that day, before Whitlock returned them a week later.

But after staff became suspicious he became aggressive and even changed his story, claiming it was his grandmother that had bought the clothes and not his partner.

He was then arrested and found to have a fake £20 in his wallet.

Then on June 2, Watson went to Lidl in Ossett and bought £180 worth of items including a vacuum cleaner, using fake Scottish £20 notes.

When challenged, she said her husband had been working in Scotland and the staff member accepted them.

But on closer inspection, the notes all had the same serial number.

Whitlock then tried to return the goods to Lidl in Dewsbury later that day for a refund, but a warning had been sent out to the stores and he was arrested.

The court was told that Watson, age 40, has 65 previous offences to her name, with almost half of them for theft.

Whitlock, age 44, has committed 172 previous offences with 81 related to thefts.

Both defendants, who live at Saville Walk in Dewsbury, appeared via video link in court from custody. Whitlock was being held on remand in HMP Birmingham, and Watson held at HMP New Hall.

Mitigating for both, Emily Handley said there was a lack of sophistication in their offending, that the counterfeit notes had no watermark or convincing metallic strips.

Neither defendant would disclose where the notes came from, hinting that they were on the periphery of a larger criminal organisation and feared reprisals.

The judge, Recorder Ben Nolan QC said: "It's clear that you operated as a team visiting various stores between March and June of last year, obtaining items of value by passing counterfeit £20 notes and attempting to have the cost of those items refunded.

"It was a concerted effort to use counterfeit currency.

"At the end of the day, the authorities make clear that the potential harm to the UK economy means that immediate custodial sentences are required."

He jailed Watson for 10 months and Whitlock for eight months.