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Breach of trust council leisure chief jailed for embezzlement

A SENIOR council manager who embezzled thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money has been jailed for theft.

Tom Leighton, 48, earned £62,000 a year as Falkirk Council's Head of Leisure Services, and ran the annual Big In Falkirk pop festival.

But he carefully siphoned off more than £27,000 from the ­festival and other budgets, and used his mother-in-law and a former work colleague to channel the cash back to his bank account.

Jailing Leighton for a year, Sheriff William Gallacher told him no sentence other than custody was appropriate. He had considered a 15 month sentence, but reduced it to 12 months because Leighton pled guilty.

Sheriff Gallacher told Leighton, who pled guilty last month, that responsibility should have come with his job.

Leighton has repaid some of the money and has made arrangements to repay the rest.

The sheriff said: "I have to deal with this as a very gross breach of trust."

Falkirk Sheriff Court heard that while organising Big In Falkirk, Leighton could authorise payments for services provided by third parties.

But Kirsten Cockburn, prosecuting, said his line manager, Maureen Campbell, became suspicious when a payment was made to a Mrs Gardiner in Galashiels.

Mrs Campbell wondered why he should be paying anyone there, and also knew that Leighton lived in Selkirk. She contacted Mrs Gardiner to find she was Leighton's mother-in-law.

The depute fiscal said that in another instance, a payment of £6000 was made to a Mrs Brown, who had been a colleague of Leighton's when he was in a former job at Borders Council.

This prompted an internal audit at Falkirk and various other payments came to light.

It emerged Leighton's former colleague had transferred the money to Leighton as he requested, but when quizzed by police claimed "she didn't know she was doing anything illegal".

She said she could not give a reason other than that "she was stupid".

Police officers then questioned ­Leighton's mother-in-law about £4000 she received and transferred back to him. Mrs Gardiner said her daughter had asked her to transfer money due from Falkirk Council.

Leighton's wife Nicola told police she was "unaware of any criminality involving her husband".

Leighton, of Selkirk, admitted embezzling £27,152 from the council between October 2006 and May 2009. He had initially been accused of stealing £75,578, but the figure was reduced by the prosecution. He also admitted attempting to embezzle £16,000 - reduced from £17,675 - between July 2007 and May 2009.

After leaving Falkirk Council, Leighton took a senior leisure job at Horsham District Council in Sussex, which he held for two years before being sacked.

Leighton has since returned £13,000 to Falkirk Council and has also left his pension with the authority as repayment of the rest.

Iain Burke, defending, said: "This is a man with no previous convictions who has lost everything.

"He has lost his career which was going well, and he's lost his family. He has no contact with his children.

"For the last four years he has been living in limbo. He has been living in isolation. He hasn't been in contact with friends. His life has been on hold.

"He has expressed genuine and significant remorse."

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