A car tyre factory was forced to shut down over a £500,000 'inside job'.
Toyota Tsusho – the trading arm of Japan's Toyota Group – ran a site at Knowsley Industrial Park, off Moorgate Road in Kirkby.
The Toyota Tsusho Assembly Systems UK Ltd unit supplied tyres to Jaguar Land Rover's Halewood plant.
But a disgraceful plot involving trusted production team leader James Dixon led to the loss of around 60 jobs.
Liverpool Crown Court heard Dixon, 66, of Beech Grove, Walton, was "lent on" by a crime gang to steal tyres.
The grandad would open a fire door, turn off an alarm using his fob, then two large vans arrived and were filled with stock.
Company director Jonathan Panes noted a loss of "potentially up to half a million pounds" between October 2017 and October 2018.
Carmel Wilde, prosecuting, said he launched daily stock takes in October 2018 and by November had recorded 62 missing tyres.
He spoke to the security company running his CCTV systems, who logged every time fire doors were opened and alarms activated.
Two of three thefts involving Dixon were caught on camera, one on October 26, and another on November 30, both late at night.
Ms Wilde said: "That was when two large white vans would reverse up to the fire door and be stocked up and then leave."
She added: "Regrettably, those vans weren't able to be traced."
On December 10 that year, Mr Panes invited Dixon for an interview, who confessed to stealing tyres on three occasions.
Ms Wilde said: "His explanation was he was approached by people whom he refused to identify, and fearing for his safety and that of his family, he went along with the thefts."
Dixon resigned afterwards and declined to help any further, leading to his arrest on January 17 this year.
He gave police a similar account, adding the mystery men who approached him "had a reputation for violence".
Dixon, who was apologetic, admitted stealing 324 tyres and being paid £750 – £250 in cash each time.
He admitted theft on the basis he was targeted and threatened by the gang and had no involvement in planning the scheme.
Ms Wilde said police believed it was "highly unlikely" Dixon orchestrated the plot and was "targeted and exploited".
She said Mr Panes made a statement in which he said the factory had closed down, partly due to Mr Dixon, "given the theft of tyres unquestionably reduced trust in the Liverpool plant by their parent company in Japan".
Ms Wilde said: "The theft also reduced trust in the plant by their customer Jaguar Land Rover, who needed confidence that adequate tyres would be available to support their car build."
Mr Panes said some staff found new roles but other who lost their jobs remained unemployed.
He said Dixon was "very trusted" and a close friend of several managers, many of whom suffered stress, pressure and sleepless nights during the investigation.
Dixon, who has one past conviction for drink driving in 1998, accepted stealing tyres valued between £18,439 and £25,638.
Ania Grudzinska, defending, said: "Of course this was a much bigger operation, which Mr Dixon wasn't a part of.
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"Although he played a part in this operation, Mr Pane sets out that in fact the total value of tyres that was stolen was almost half a million.
"In my submission, Mr Dixon cannot be held responsible for everything that took place."
Judge David Swinnerton agreed and said Dixon would be sentenced on the basis he stole £18,439 of tyres.
He said: "The closure of the company cannot all be laid at the door of Mr Dixon."
Ms Grudzinska said it was suspected other workers were involved and Dixon was "coerced" into the theft.
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She said he had been a hard working man all his life and was now employed in quality control for a firm supplying seats for Jaguar Land Rover.
The lawyer said the theft was "out of character" and if Dixon was jailed, his daughter and grandchildren would suffer.
She said: "Those children would not understand why their grandparent is absent from their lives and they would be the innocent victims in this also."
Judge Swinnerton said references spoke highly of Dixon and praised him for being honest and trustworthy, "but you weren't honest and you weren't trustworthy towards the end of October and in November 2018".
The judge said Dixon let down his employers, colleagues and friends "very badly", even if the factory closure wasn't entirely his fault.
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He said: "Nonetheless, you played your part in contributing to the collapse of a business."
Judge Swinnerton said "I hope looking back on that you feel utterly ashamed of yourself, because you should.
"It was a disgraceful way to betray the trust of friends and colleagues."
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He added: "You've got to live with that and I hope you do feel shame for what you did."
Judge Swinnerton said Dixon should have gone to the police if he was under pressure, but he believed he was unlikely to offend again.
The judge handed Dixon eight months in jail, suspended for 18 months, plus 200 hours of unpaid work, and ordered him to pay £400 towards court costs.