Two police officers in south Wales have been convicted of theft following an undercover sting operation conducted by their own force.
Detective Sergeant Stephen Phillips stole £250 cash and Detective Constable Jason Evans took two disposable pens while they were carrying out what they thought was a raid in connection with a series of robberies in Manchester, Cardiff Magistrates' Court was told.
South Wales Police staged the fake undercover operation amid ongoing concerns about alleged misconduct by Phillips, 45, and Evans, 44, who were unaware that the targeted house was equipped with secret police cameras.
The duo later drove to a service station on the M5 to hand over the contents of the raid to officers from Greater Manchester Police, who were also involved in the sting.
But before the exchange took place, Phillips had already lost £60 of the stolen money in a gambling machine, the court heard.
District Judge Bodfan Jenkins warned the disgraced pair that they could face jail as a result of their actions.
“This is a gross breach of trust in relation to conduct members expect from the police force,” Judge Jenkins said.
“There can be few examples of a graver breach of trust, whatever the value of the items.”
In adjourning proceedings ahead of sentencing next month, the judge told both defendants: “All options remain open - including custody.”
Police sources say officers set up the fake search operation at a house in Edith Mills Close, Neath, on 4 March.
Prosecutor David Roberts told the court the property was fitted with “covert visual and audio” and items were placed by police in the house - including around £21,000 in cash, watches, an iPhone and even Viagra.
“All the bank notes had been marked and their serial numbers recorded and photographed,” added Mr Roberts.
Phillips and Evans arrived at the house around 6.15pm after being told to carry out a search operation on behalf of Greater Manchester Police to find evidence of a series of robberies in the north west of England.
Less than 15 minutes after arriving, Phillips found £240 inside a coat, which he placed in his right trouser pocket.
At 6.41pm he found an additional £10 in a bedside table.
Describing the CCTV footage of the search, Mr Roberts said: “He looked to see if a colleague was watching him and then appeared to put something in his right trouser pocket.”
The search, which was witnessed by an undercover policeman posing as homeowner “Tracy Marshall”, had finished by 8pm and the pair headed to a meeting point with Greater Manchester officers at Strensham motorway services in Worcestershire.
After exchanging the contents of the “raid”, Greater Manchester Police noticed that £250 was missing and informed their counterparts in south Wales.
Phillips and Evans were later stopped by a marked police car at 1am on the M4 motorway and arrested by a member of the force's professional standards department.
Officers found £190 in Phillips' wallet. £60 in marked notes were recovered from a gambling machine from Strensham services.
In interview at Cardiff Bay Police Station Phillips admitted to taking the money, but claimed he was going to hand it over to “Tracy Marshall” because he felt sorry for her and thought that by giving her the cash she could be “recruited” as a police informant.
When Evans was first quizzed he denied taking anything from the house, but later cracked and said: “I am sorry. I have taken two pens. I did not have any at the time.”
Judge Jenkins said the fact the pens were worth next to nothing did not matter.
He added: “It is not the value (that is of concern). It is the breach of trust.”
Evans, from Cilfrew, and Phillips, from Skewen, both admitted one charge of theft each and will be sentenced later this month.
The court was told both officers are currently suspended from duties pending internal disciplinary proceedings.
Additional reporting by Press Association