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Cooling Castle Barn bar manager Thomas Jeal jailed after stealing £13k from idyllic wedding venue

A young bar manager at an idyllic wedding venue who stole £13,000 has been jailed for eight months.

Thomas Jeal helped himself to cash from the till at Cooling Castle Barn - next to the home of musician Jools Holland - over an eight to nine-month period.

Maidstone Crown Court heard the 24-year-old had been treated like a "member of the family" by his employers, who also provided him with free accommodation and paid for his driving lessons.

Thomas Jeal was bar manager at Cooling Castle Barn
Thomas Jeal was bar manager at Cooling Castle Barn

General manager Rebecca Collins was said to have broken down in tears when she discovered his betrayal.

In a victim impact statement to the court, she wrote: "He was treated really well by us as a family business. Not only was he trusted but he lived in the family home for nine months completely rent free."

She added they had also helped him financially to gain an industry licence, which would enable him to run his own bar or pub in the future.

"He was not just an employee, he was an integral part of the family business," she said. "I feel he has stolen from us personally and thrown our trusting nature back at us."

Jeal, now of Livingstone Road, Gillingham, admitted theft in breach of trust between March 2012 and November 2013.

"He was not just an employee, he was an integral part of the family business. I feel he has stolen from us personally and thrown our trusting nature back at us..." - general manager Rebecca Collins

His basis of plea that he stole over a shorter time period than alleged in the charge was, however, accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Prosecutor Craig Evans told the court Jeal would void some or all of the drinks from a large round and then pocket that amount of cash from the till at the end of the night.

"He told police he had no idea how much he had taken, but suggested it would be in the thousands."

Jeal was said to be genuinely remorseful from the outset.

Simon Wickens, defending, told the court as soon as he knew the discrepancies were being investigated he sent a text to his bosses asking to speak to them because they "deserved honesty".

He added he would "come clean" to them.

At the time of the stealing, Jeal was said to be in debt and had taken to alcohol and "more than occasional, recreational drug use".

But Mr Wickens said it was also an indication of Jeal's "honesty and integrity" that he did not hide the fact the money he took was not just spent on paying that debt back.

"He has let himself down, his family and there is bitter regret about letting down the family that took him in almost like a family member," said Mr Wickens.

"He is a man of good character who even today comes across as a very fine, upstanding person but for what, of course, he has done here."

Judge Charles Macdonald QC
Judge Charles Macdonald QC

Numerous references were handed to the judge and Mr Wickens urged the court to impose a suspended sentence so Jeal could continue to work and pay back the money he stole.

However, Judge Charles Macdonald QC said that despite Jeal's genuine remorse and previous good character, the offence "required deterrence".

He added: "The bad feature of this case is that you had been given exceptional support by those employers and treated effectively as a family member."

The court heard Jeal has no realisable assets so a confiscation order that he pays a nominal sum of £1 within seven days, or serve a further seven days behind bars in default, was made.

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