A financial director who stole nearly £170,000 from his employers to pay crippling credit card debts has been jailed for two years. Christopher Brown, 55, from Lymington, Hampshire, 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.'' 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.
An internal audit carried out while Brown was on holiday revealed a large discrepancy in the firm's accounts. The other two directors confronted him on his return in November 2003 and Brown agreed to resign. 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.
He was found guilty of four charges of theft, dated between 2000 and 2003.
Recorder James Watson QC said Brown's offending was so serious that only an immediate custodial sentence was appropriate.
The judge said the case was ''unusual'' and added: ''I do take into account the pressures upon your life - your own sexuality - and the shame of being unable to admit to yourself your sexuality.''
The judge also ordered Brown to pay £4,800 prosecution costs.