A SHAMED finance boss, who plundered almost £170,000 from his employers to keep his gay lifestyle secret, was today jailed for two years.

Christopher Graeme Brown, 55, from Grafton Gardens, Lymington, denied four counts of theft from Dawsons on Poole Road, Westbourne.

But he was convicted by a jury at Bournemouth Crown Court.

The father-of-one, who used 56 company cheques to pay off his own debts, claimed he had felt pressurised to live beyond his means after his then-wife Mandy discovered he had made gay chatline 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. I knew I was going into debt.”

Brown’s “excessive spending” included private education, university bills, hotel stays, a Florida holiday home and dining out.

After being confronted, he resigned and later went to France where his male partner had bought bed and breakfast accommodation.

Brown later insisted he had repaid around £120,000 of the “borrowed” money.

Defending, Brian Sharman: “He didn’t believe he was acting dishonestly; some of the stolen funds were repaid.

“It was a very unusual set of circumstances; he was a loyal and decent employee for years.”

Sentencing Brown, Recorder James Watson QC said the theft had “involved a substantial degree of dishonesty and breach of trust”.

He told Brown: “You choose to siphon off cash from company business accounts to fund your own financial expenditure.

“Your actions were brought to an end only because you went on holiday and the company brought in a new eye to look over the books.

“You were a close friend of the founding members who placed enormous trust in you.”

Brown was ordered to pay £4,800 court costs.

After the case, DC Andrew Stuckes from Dorset Police financial investigation unit said: “Graeme Brown was a trusted employee who carried out a systematic series of thefts in order to satisfy his lavish spending.

“Only the stability of Dawsons helped it to weather the financial storm.

“Mr Brown had to be forced to return from abroad and has now, rightly, been held to account for his actions.”