THE partner of a pound shop boss who stole £9,500 takings and fled to Spain has described the theft as a ‘cry for help’.

Last week Mark Atherton, 29, pleaded guilty to stealing the cash from Pound World in the Mall Shopping Centre, Blackburn.

Yesterday Jamie Crossman, with whom Atherton fled to Benidorm, defended his long-term partner - and pleaded for him not to be jailed when he is sentenced.

He said: “His actions were a cry for help — a moment of madness — but it was me who pressured him to go to Spain.

“I know he must be punished, but a community order is best, and he needs to be offered emotional support, like counselling.

"Prison would be far too much for him. He couldn’t handle it.”

Atherton, 29, of Bolton, met Mr Crossman, 28, at a bar in 2002 and they lived together until recently.

Mr Crossman said Atherton was depressed before the theft.

He said: “He never spoke about stealing money from work.

“In mid-January, Mark told me he’d taken money from the safe and I didn’t believe him until he showed it to me.

"I panicked because he’d spent some.

“I truly believe that, had he not spoken to me, Mark would have handed himself in, but I knew getting arrested would make his depression worse.

“I had talked about going abroad for good before and this was the perfect opportunity. Mark was easily lead.”

The pair flew from Manchester to Alicante on January 17 and stayed in a hotel in the Mediterranean resort of Benidorm.

Mr Crossman said: “We were spending the money on going out and drinking a lot. I locked the money away so it wouldn’t all get spent.

“Mark just wanted to go home, but I persuaded him to stay. He would lock himself away for hours on end. He definitely felt remorse.”

A week after they arrived, they travelled 350 miles south west to Marbella before returning to Benidorm.

Mr Crossman said: “Eventually, we realised the money was going to run out and we began arguing more and more and I ended up moving into a different hotel.

“The next day, I called in to the hotel and asked ‘where’s Mark?’ The reply was ‘on a plane back to England’.”

Atherton handed himself in at Boton Police Station last Thursday, and pleaded guilty at court the following day.