The owner of Maryport’s aquarium has issued a stark warning over employee fraud after two members of staff stole almost £130,000.

Mark Vollers spoke out after Scott Lister, 29, a former employee of the Lake District Coast Aquarium, was sentenced at Carlisle Crown on Wednesday.

He stole £11,000 from the tourist attraction over three-and-a-half years by making more than 360 criminal transactions before his theft was detected.

Last year, Pamela Gradon, a manager at the aquarium, received a 32-month jail term for the theft of £117,000 from the business.

Mr Vollers said: “There are lessons for any business owner to be learned from my personal experience with employee fraud.

“Unfortunately, employee fraud is quite common and most people you talk to in business have their own story to tell.

“I found out the hard way that you simply have to have checks in place that make it as difficult as possible for opportunist theft to take place and then develop into something really serious.

“Even if you are essentially a trusting person like me who gives responsibility easily to those that you feel merit it, the systems for overseeing the taking and processing of cash are there to protect not just the boss but all the other innocent employees who are otherwise deprived of sharing in the benefits of a profitable business, such as regular pay rises and investment in equipment that makes work more pleasurable.”

Lister, of Flimby Brow, Flimby, has now been ordered to pay back every penny of what he stole while working at the aquarium’s till between 2008 and 2011.

Gerard Rogerson, prosecuting, said it was during the second of Lister’s two employment spells at the aquarium that he committed his crime.

An investigation was launched after suspicions were raised.

It revealed that Lister initially stole “a few pounds” at a time before the transaction amounts jumped to between £80 and £100.

Mr Rogerson said there was no evidence to suggest it was a joint venture between Lister and Gradon.

He added: “It appears to be the most unhappiest of coincidences that Mr Vollers was employing two people who were stealing from him at the same time.”

While profits were affected, the viability of the business was not, the court heard.

Lister, a man of previous good character, was represented by Marion Weir, who told Judge Peter Davies that her client had taken the money because of debts and not to fund a “lavish” lifestyle.

Miss Weir said: “It is a long-standing, mean offence that he committed against someone who placed their trust in him. He realises that wholeheartedly.”

Judge Davies imposed an eight-month prison sentence but suspended this for two years after hearing the mitigation.

He told Lister: “You were not working for Apple or IBM – you were working for the Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport. £11,000 is a significant sum of money, especially bearing in mind Mr Vollers had already lost a significant sum.”

Lister was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £340 costs.

Judge Davies heard that Lister’s grandparents had loaned him money as he sought to compensate his former employer.

“I hope you pay them back,” said the judge.