The general manager of a luxury Cotswolds hotel stole more than £170,000 from his employers and blew the money on "clothes, hotel stays and male companionship", a court heard this week.
Paul Thompson, 44, Aids sufferer and former general manager of the four-red-AA-star, 26-bedroom Lords of the Manor hotel in Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, got away with his frauds for four years, but was caught after he confessed in a suicide letter to his mother, Gloucester Crown Court was told on Monday.
Thompson did not carry out his suicide threat and was arrested as a result of his letter. He admitted his crimes and was fully co-operative with the police, the court heard.
He pleaded guilty to defrauding the hotel owners, Empire Ventures Ltd, of £157,428 between 10 June 2013 and 12 May 2016.
He also admitted obtaining £15,572 by fraud from the Cotswold Finest Hotels consortium by abusing his position as its treasurer between May 2012 and May 2016.
After hearing that Thompson suffers from physical and mental illnesses, Judge Michael Harington spared him jail and passed a two year prison sentence, suspended for two years. He also ordered Thompson to do 200 hours of unpaid work.
On hearing that Thompson has repaid £62,000 of the money to the hotel, but now has no money left, the judge formally certified his total benefit from crime as £173,000.63 under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Judge Harington made a nominal confiscation order against Thompson for just £1.
However, should Thompson come into any money in the future he will be liable to repay the full amount outstanding.
The court heard that Thompson's fraud against the hotel, located in a 17th century former rectory with a Michelin-starred restaurant, was carried out over a three-year period when he was earning a salary of £45,000 a year.
Prosecutor Janine Wood said "On 8 August 2015 a member of staff at the hotel saw him burning some paper outside the hotel. On 12 August the defendant reported in sick and his mother later reported to the employers that she had received a suicide note from him.
"The note contained information about his thefts from his employers and the police were informed."
Hotel bosses started checking the financial records and found that Thompson had been receiving deposits for events such as weddings at the hotel but was paying the money into his personal bank account.
A court order was obtained to get access to his bank account and it was then found he had also been defrauding Cotswold Finest Hotels, a marketing and promotion group of which he was treasurer. He had paid himself for fictitious events which had never taken place.
"After being arrested he was asked what he had done with all the money and he said he had used it to pay for clothes, hotels and male companionship," Mrs Wood said. "He admitted he had been trying to cover his tracks."
Elaine Booth, chair of Cotswold Finest Hotels, told the court that the money Thompson stole from them was a significant proportion of their total budget. Projects including a new website and a social media campaign, had been held back because of the loss.
"He pretended to support me, but he seriously let me down," she stated. "This is a very sad end to my three year tenure as chair."
Gareth Pugh, Thompson's boss at the hotel, said the financial implications of the thefts had been "'severe".
"We have had cash flow problems. This caused us to obtain an overdraft from the bank and we also could not pay our suppliers at the time, which had a knock-on effect on our reputation."
The offence had caused stress and extra hours working to the staff and morale had been hit, he added.
Thompson was of previous good character, the prosecutor said. She told the court that sentencing guidelines suggested a jail term of between three and six years for Thompson's offences.
William Dudley, defending, handed the court letters from Thompson and his GP which he said showed the extent of his poor health.
He had HIV which had been badly managed and was becoming full blown Aids and he also suffered from depression, ulcerative colitis and a blood clot on the lung, he said.
Prison would have a serious impact on Thompson and his condition and the likely reaction of other inmates to his Aids would make it a "double punishment", he submitted.
Thompson had risen quickly to the position of general manager at the hotel , but now realised he was at the time spiralling into a dark depression to the point that he was even predicting the day of his death, said Mr Dudley.
He was not thinking rationally and had become reckless because he thought his life would come to a premature end, he added.
"His offences came to light through his own disclosures, first in his own suicide note and then in a detailed document which he provided to the police."
Since his arrest he had been working with the mental health charity Mind and hopes now to get paid employment with them, Mr Dudley concluded.
Judge Harington told Thompson "This was an extremely serious breach of trust over a significant period of time.
"You are of previous good character. You confessed before anyone knew about it. The sentencing guidelines are not tramlines and I can depart from them if I feel it is appropriate.
"I take into account the fact that you have very poor health, you have been diagnosed with Aids, you have colitis, which has an impact on your ability to absorb medication, you have a blood clot on your lung and you have very severe depression. "
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