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A crooked financial director who stole nearly £170,000 from his Bournemouth-based employers to pay crippling credit card debts has been jailed for two years.
Christopher Brown, 55, claimed that he took the money from luxury goods firm Dawsons to stop his then-wife Mandy from revealing he was gay.
Brown maintained he felt pressurised to live beyond his means after she discovered he had been making phone calls to gay chatlines - and threatened to expose his sexuality.
He told the jury at Bournemouth Crown Court: ''She took exception - I was desperate not to leave the family so I got into this financial mess.''
Brown split from his wife in 2003 and he started a new life in France with a male partner, with whom he set up a bed and breakfast business. But he was forced to return to the UK from France last year after a European Arrest Warrant was issued.
Brown insisted he had not stolen the money from Dawsons - where he had worked for 23 years - but had borrowed it and repaid all but £35,000 of what he had taken. The defendant, of Grafton Gardens, Lymington, Hampshire, was found guilty last month of four charges of theft, dated between 2000 and 2003.
The court heard Brown stole £169,733.33 from Dawsons where he was employed as finance director and had complete control over the firm's finances. Brown wrote out 56 cheques with around £140,000 paid directly to credit card companies to meet his mounting debts. The remainder he paid into his own account.
Recorder James Watson QC said Brown's offending was so serious that only an immediate custodial sentence was appropriate.
''You were convicted by a jury of theft. It was a substantial theft and it was a theft which took place over a substantial period,'' the judge said. ''It was also a theft which involved a substantial degree of dishonesty and breach of trust. I do take the view, despite the mitigation, this is a matter that I must pass an immediate custodial sentence.''
The judge also ordered Brown to pay £4,800 prosecution costs.