He’s in – Prison – Bannatyne Financial Director jailed for £8M fraud

Christopher Watson, finance director in Duncan Bannatyne’s business empire, has been jailed after pleading guilty to defrauding the celebrity entrepreneur’s group of companies of £7,974,221 over the 6 years leading to July 2014.

The judge at Teesside Crown Court sentenced Watson to four years and eight months.

The court heard how the Darlington FD siphoned huge amounts from corporate accounts belonging to Bannatyne’s Fitness over a period of six years to cover his debts with major betting firms.

Andrew West, prosecuting, said Watson had tried to cover up his corruption by submitting doctored invoices which he could pay into his own accounts.

Watson also admitted five counts of transferring criminal property – homes he purchased in the Darlington area – with the stolen funds.

When arrested Watson told police he found he had the opportunity to steal and claimed he had been exposed to a “culture of undoubtedly corrupt company management”

West told the court that Watson “took money as he thought they were all doing it.”

Defending Watson, barrister Adrian Langdale called him: “a product of the environment he found”, and claimed that there were other examples of senior staff using the company “as a form of personal bank account”.

Watson became addicted to gambling, Mr Langdale said, and first took money from the firm to try to recover his losses, but the situation soon spiralled out of control.

The Darlington-based Bannatyne Group, was set up in 1996 and runs health clubs and hotels across the UK.

Bannatyne, best-known for appearing on BBC series Dragons’ Den, was not present in court, but in a statement read out by the prosecution said he was “shocked and appalled at the callous actions of Mr Watson”.

The statement continued that Bannatyne had raised the issue of increasing some staff’s pay from the minimum wage level, but “Chris Watson argued cash flow would not allow it”.

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

Image: Featureflash / Shutterstock.com