Bannatyne Group £7.9m fraud probe: Christopher Watson guilty

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image copyrightPA
image captionChristopher Watson used the money to fund his gambling habit

A finance director who took almost £8m from businesses owned by entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne has been jailed.

Christopher Watson pleaded guilty to defrauding the Bannatyne Group of £7,974,221 from July 2008 to July 2014.

He used the money to fund his gambling habit, spending £5.4m at one bookmaker, and bought a number of properties.

The judge at Teesside Crown Court sentenced the 46-year-old father-of-three, of Cleveland Avenue, Darlington, to four years and eight months.

The Bannatyne Group, which is based in Darlington, was set up by the celebrity entrepreneur in 1996 and runs health clubs and hotels across the UK.

Mr Bannatyne was not in court, but a statement by him was read out by the prosecution in which it said he was "absolutely shocked and appalled at the callous actions of Mr Watson".

It went on to say he had raised the issue of increasing some staff's pay from the minimum wage level, but "Chris Watson argued cashflow would not allow it".

He had refinanced the firm in 2014, and sold freehold land which he had to then rent back, "although it had always been my plan to pass the land along with my companies to my children".

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