A Poundland employee faked a burglary at his own store in Barnstaple so he could raid the safe to pay off drug debts.

Jack Meadows stole £9,500 from the shop where he was assistant manager and then burned out his own car so he could pretend it had been taken with the keys inside, Exeter Crown Court heard.

Meadows, aged 25, of Castle Hill, Berrynarbor, admitted theft by an employee and was jailed for 14 months, suspended for two years, curfewed for six months, and ordered to do 100 hours unpaid community work.

The court was told he had credit card debts of £8,000 and a £7,000 debt to a cocaine dealer who was allegedly threatening his family.

He planned the raid on his shop on September 14 of last year carefully, taking a spare set of keys and even changing his clothes before and after.

He disabled the CCTV before he went to the office with the safe and even remembered to steal the bottle of white spirit which he used to torch his car.

He was caught because he had not realised the outside was covered by a different CCTV system which showed him coming and going.

Meadows had worked at the store for five years and worked his way up to be assistant manager, trusted to open and close the shop and store cash in the safe.

Judge Timothy Rose said: “You were assistant manager and had a significant level of personal responsibility. You decided to steal from your employer and there was a significant amount of planning.”

Brian Fitzherbert said Meadows got changed again after leaving the shop and dumped his car at Higher Raleigh Road in Barnstaple, where he set it on fire. He then reported to police it had been stolen.

He used £7,000 to pay off his existing drug debt; £500 to buy more cocaine; and handed the remaining £2,000 to the police when he realised he had been detected.

Richard Crabb, defending, said Meadows developed a drug habit after the breakdown of a relationship and feared his ex and their son were at risk from dealers.

He stole the money after his dealer sent him a text which showed he knew exactly where they lived.

He has done everything possible to reform himself since his arrest, seeking debt guidance, drug counselling, and treatment for problems with depression.

He has undertaken health and safety training so he could become a ground worker but was unable to take the necessary final test because of the virus emergency.