AN ACCOUNTANT who illegally siphoned off more than three quarters of a million pounds from his employer has been sentenced to three years in prison.
Paul Goring, who was the sole bookkeeper for Coastal Amusements Ltd, admitted stealing a total of £801,617.57, between November 2007 and September 2011, using fraudulent names and invoices for the transactions.
Goring, 47, of Vale Road, St Leonards, paid more than £17,000 into his own bank account, and a combined total of more than £790,000 into the accounts of four friends, Simon and Dawn Winchester, Mark Checksfield, and Lee Barlow.
He pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud by abuse of position.
Goring spoke only to confirm his name when he appeared at Lewes Crown Court on Wednesday (June 6). The court heard how out of a misguided sense of loyalty to his friends, Goring siphoned off money into their bank accounts in hundreds of separate transactions.
Richard Body, defending, said: “It is clear that Paul Goring is a well-meaning individual who embarked on this fraudulent activity out of a misguided sense of duty to a friend.
“It seems clear although he is reluctant to accept it, his good nature was being exploited.
“Much of this money must have been used on fairly high living but not for Paul Goring.”
On one occasion the court heard he received a threatening text message from Mark Checksfield saying: “Give me six grand now today, or I’m grassing everyone up. Need a holiday, everyone else is having a good time but me.”
During the time he was employed by Coastal amusements, Goring had unrestricted access to the accounting system and had been responsible for making payments to staff and suppliers at the amusements firm.
When interviewed by police when he was arrested on January 12 this year, the court heard, Goring said: “I am not a criminal, this was never meant to happen.”
The court heard how around August 2010 it was noticed that late payment reminders, and penalty notices were accumulating at Coastal Amusements Ltd, which has a number of business interests in the town including The Deluxe leisure centre, and bingo club.
Goring was as a result given a formal warning, however by late August 2011 the situation had not changed, and he was asked to resign.
His replacement noticed a number of discrepancies in the accounting system, and company bank account.
It was after a lengthy investigation by police that Goring was arrested and charged with five counts of fraud.
The court heard that Goring himself repaid just over £9,000 of the money he had taken for himself.
The remainder has not been recovered, although civil proceedings have begun to retrieve the funds.
Goring, who has no previous convictions, volunteered for the Hastings Old Town Ghost Walk tours, acting out some of the spooks behind some of the stories, and had also performed in various productions at the Stables Theatre.
Judge Tain said: “There are clearly many, many people out there that think highly of you, and I am in no doubt that they think highly of you because you have done many good things.”
He added that the element of blackmail involved would mean that Goring would have continued with the criminal activity if he had not been stopped.
Goring must serve half of his sentence in prison, before being released.
A spokesperson for Coastal Amusements Ltd said: “The systematic theft of such a large sum of money over several years could have compromised the jobs of Paul’s former friends and colleagues at Coastal Amusements.
“That the company has survived such massive fraud, in already difficult financial times, is a tribute to the dedication and hard work of the directors and staff, all of whom have been shocked and saddened by Paul’s evident dishonesty.”