Published: 12:17, 20 September 2018
| Updated: 13:26, 20 September 2018
A thieving football coach who stole thousands of pounds from the parents of his young players begged to be spared a prison sentence this week.
Clinton Hunter, 34, had earlier admitted swiping cash handed over to pay for a trip to watch Tottenham play West Brom in May.
Twenty parents had stumped up a total of £2,520 for the outing, but on the day before the match Hunter cancelled the trip, blaming a tour company.
Parents grew suspicious after they failed to receive their money back and Hunter then spun a web of lies to cover the theft, saying he had contacted the bank, believing himself to be a victim of fraud.
He later admitted he had stolen the money to pay off debts, and this week narrowly avoided a prison sentence.
Margate magistrates were told many parents had considered Hunter to be a family friend and felt bitterly betrayed by his actions.
The father-of-four, of The Hyde, Chartham, pleaded with the bench to spare him jail time, squirming in the dock as they carefully considered the mitigation offered on his behalf by probation officer Mike Hamlyn.
Mr Hamlyn said Hunter had alcohol issues, often downing 10 cans of beer a night, five times a week, and also took cocaine.
The landscape gardener was said to be suffering emotionally after losing a child at birth in 2006 and was on medication for depression.
He failed to attend work due to being incapacitated through depression and as debts began to spiral he “dipped into” the football money.
Mr Hamlyn said: “He tried to find a solution and wanted to get a loan to pay the money back. He is very remorseful and was during his interview with police.”
Hunter had earlier declined a solicitor; but when informed by the court clerk he faced a custodial sentence and prison officers arrived to take him to cells he begged to be heard.
He told the court: “I have three young children and the middle one suffers with anxiety.
"My partner uses crutches and has crumbling vertebrae in her back, sometimes she cannot walk - this will destroy our family.
"I would do a million hours [unpaid work]. I would do anything if I could just get back to my partner and children tonight - I will get on my hands and knees and beg you.”
Chairman of the bench Chris Mackenny said Hunter escaped jail by the skin of his teeth. “We have had to consider a whole range of issues,” he said.
“This offence warrants a custodial sentence and is 240 days’ imprisonment, but after hearing all the submissions the bench has decided to suspend the sentence for two years.”
He added: “You must do exactly what you are told - you have come as close to anyone I have seen in 23 years on the bench of not going to prison.”
Hunter was also ordered to pay £2,520 compensation to the parents, attend 25 rehabilitation treatment days and undertake 300 hours of unpaid work.