Christian thief avoids jail sentence

PUBLISHED: 10:28 25 February 2008 | UPDATED: 21:40 26 October 2009

AN IT manager at a garden centre who stole nearly £4,000 has escaped jail after a judge heard glowing references from his church. Christopher Lawson, 32, was told that people who thieve from their employers normally go to straight prison. But Recorder

AN IT manager at a garden centre who stole nearly £4,000 has escaped jail after a judge heard glowing references from his church.

Christopher Lawson, 32, was told that people who thieve from their employers normally go to straight prison.

But Recorder Robert Glancy QC passed a suspended sentence after hearing how he worked selflessly for St Francis of Assisi Church in WGC.

St Albans Crown Court was told on Friday that Lawson, who was employed by Van Hage garden centre in Great Amwell, was confronted after the HSBC bank noticed suspect transactions.

He admitted the 31 thefts, saying: "I have been very stupid. I had severe financial difficulties. I want to pay it back and keep my job."

In a six-month period from March to September last year, Lawson had been making fake refunds.

He paid money into his debit account, credit card account and took some as cash, said Andrea Scott Lynch, prosecuting.

Lawson, who did lose his job, and lives in London Road, Hertford, pleaded guilty to theft. He was a man of previous good character.

Monica Stevenson, defending, said he had shown genuine remorse and had co-operated with the investigation into the thefts.

She said it was an unusual case in that both his former employer and the police officer in the case did not want him to be sent to prison.

Lawson and his partner were selling their home and would repay the money from the £25,000 equity, she said.

Giving evidence on Lawson's behalf as a character witness, the Rev Peter Louis told the court: "He was in a pressurised financial situation.

"He was unable to meet the financial demands on him and he acted totally out of character.

"He is fundamentally honest and is a fine young man. He is one of the foremost youth workers in our church."

Recorder Glancy told Lawson: "People who abuse positions of trust usually go to prison. You can't help yourself to other people's money.

"I hope you are embarrassed and ashamed by what you have done."

But he said he would take an exceptional course with him because of his community work and the comments from the officer and his former employer.

He passed a nine-month jail sentence suspended for two years, ordered him to complete 200 hours unpaid work and to pay the full compensation to the garden centre of £3,976.99.

The judge added: "I don't think you realise how close you came to going from here in a prison van.

"If you are tempted to take other people's money again - think carefully. Count yourself lucky.

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