Disgraced former Swale Borough Council sports chief James Thatcher from Kemsley spared jail after stealing £8k to pay off debts
Swale's former sports development manager James Thatcher
A former top council official who stole almost £8,000 when he ran into debt has avoided an immediate prison sentence.
James Thatcher was told by a judge he had no doubt the offences were so serious there had to be a jail sentence of four months, but decided it could be suspended for two years.
The 47-year-old former sports development manager at Swale Borough Council was ordered to complete 100 hours' unpaid work and will be supervised by the probation service for 12 months.
Thatcher, of Premier Way, Kemsley, admitted four offences of fraud by abuse of position between December 2008 and October 2012 and one of theft between March 2012 and January 2013.
Prosecutor Martin Yale said police launched an investigation in January this year after concern was expressed about Thatcher's conduct.
A complaint was made about a £200 donation to disability football team Range Rover Spitfires for rain jackets, which were not received.
When Thatcher went to the club to collect subscriptions, he would say he had forgotten receipts.
"It transpired that the £200 had never been paid to the right person," said Mr Yale. "Likewise, the subscriptions he had collected - £400 - were never received.
"Furthermore, £185 in registration fees collected by Mr Thatcher had gone missing."
Thatcher, who joined the sports development team in 2003, was suspended.
Swale Borough Council headquarters in East Street, Sittingbourne
He made admissions about the amounts and claimed that was the full extent of the theft.
But further investigations revealed he had "misappropriated" £1,752 in relation to a group promoting cricket for adults with which he was involved on a voluntary basis.
"What you did was utterly dishonest. Society depends on trust in the monetary system and public service..." - Judge Martin Joy
Thatcher was secretary of the District Cricket Partnership - created for the development of cricket in the Swale area - and collected money on its behalf.
The organisation was not out of pocket because Thatcher paid the money using Swale council cheques.
Before a merger in 2012, Thatcher collected cash on behalf of Swale District Development Group, which promoted junior cricket. He took £4,410 and again replaced it with council cheques.
Mr Yale told Maidstone Crown Court the total amount taken was £7,995.
The married father-of-three, formerly of Barler Place, Queenborough, is a former manager of Sheppey Leisure Complex and was instrumental in various sporting initiatives across Swale. He is now unemployed.
The case was heard at Maidstone Crown Court
Philip Rowley, defending, said Thatcher had discharged his duties diligently and responsibly and was respected in the community.
"Regretfully, his personal circumstances were such that he was in debt," he said. "He abandoned his sensible and mature approach to life and engaged in this offending behaviour.
"He feels humiliated by what he has done and wishes to make good the loss to various organisations that have suffered..." - Philip Rowley, defending
"He deeply regrets it. He feels humiliated by what he has done and wishes to make good the loss to various organisations that have suffered. He made a payment of £1,500 at the end of October."
Mr Rowley said one of Thatcher's children had been bullied at school as a result of publicity about the offences.
"Not only has he carried the humiliation and remorse, he is now watching the effect on his family," he said. "He deeply regrets that."
Thatcher made admissions as soon as he was interviewed by council officials.
"He is of previous exemplary good character," said Mr Rowley. "He recognises he has a moral responsibility to make good the loss. He would be better placed to do so if he served a sentence in the community.
"He has demonstrated his strong work ethic. He will have difficulty in finding work in the future. Because of his financial difficulties, it was necessary to sell the family home."
Judge Martin Joy sits at Maidstone Crown Court
Judge Martin Joy told Thatcher, said to be suffering from depression, he was entitled to a lesser sentence because he entered his guilty pleas at the first opportunity.
"You have demonstrated by your attitude, remorse, deep regret and, no doubt, shame for what you have done," he said. "You have effectively stolen and committed fraud of £7,995."
Passing sentence, Judge Joy told Thatcher: "What you did was utterly dishonest. Society depends on trust in the monetary system and public service.
"I have no doubt the offences are so serious a non-custodial sentence cannot be justified. I am required by law to consider, if the sentence is to be two years imprisonment or less, whether it is right to suspend it.
"I am satisfied that is the appropriate way of dealing with the matter."
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