A FORMER financial director, accused of plundering almost £170,000 from company funds, fought back tears as he explained told how he had ended up in debt.

Giving evidence at Bournemouth Crown Court, Christopher Graeme Brown said he had felt pressurised to live beyond his means after his then-wife Mandy discovered he had been making gay chatline phone calls and threatened to expose his sexuality.

He said: “She took exception; I was desperate not to leave the family so I got into this financial mess.”

Brown, 54, of Grafton Gardens, Lymington, denies four counts of theft from Dawsons in Poole Road, Westbourne, spanning a four-year period.

He said his “excessive spending” had included private education and university bills, hotel expenses, a Florida holiday home and dining out, adding: “I knew I was going into debt; it was impossible to discuss it with Mandy. I must sound like a terribly weak person,” he said.

After the couple broke up in June 2003 Brown said he had gone to France where his male partner had bought bed and breakfast accommodation.

Brown is alleged to have paid 56 company cheques into his own account to pay off his credit card bills. After being confronted, the father-of-one resigned in November 2003.

However, he insisted that he had repaid around £120,000 over a two-year period.

Defence barrister Brian Sharman said: “You are charged with stealing money from Dawsons. Did you?”

Brown replied: “No, I borrowed the money.”

Kevin Dawson, whose great-grandfather formed Dawsons in 1927, said there had been a turnover of between £1.5million and £2m in 2000.

He said: “Graeme introduced the computer system; we left it to him to tick all the boxes for an audited account at the end of each financial year and he did the banking. We were very good friends.

He had a great knack of being quite evasive, making me feel uncomfortable in my own family business.”

The court heard how a European Arrest Warrant had been issued to force Brown to return to the UK.

The case continues.