A HIGHLY-trusted accountant who stole nearly £30,000 from a hotel has been jailed for 20 months.

Pendle man Norman Hetherington paid cash directly to himself or through suppliers' accounts, while employed at the Pines Hotel, Clayton-le-Woods, near Chorley.

After the case, hotel owner Betty Duffin said Hetherington was a “wicked man” who had pushed her business to the brink of closure through his crimes.

Hetherington, 63, of Skipton Road, Foulridge, had pleaded guilty to 18 charges of theft, with another nine offences taken into consideration.

The offences occurred over a period of around 18 months and totalled £29,418.93.

Mrs Duffin said: “I’m just glad that he’s gone down because at one point I was worried it would be a suspended sentence.

“The Pines is my home and I was just about to lose it.

"He had no qualms about seeing me out on the street, so I’m glad he’s going to jail. He deserves it.

“My staff rely on this hotel for their mortgages. He was wicked, jeopardising all our livelihoods.

“I’m glad it’s all over now and I can carry on building our reputation.”

Hetherington joined the hotel in 2005 as the internal accountant with the official title of company secretary on a salary of £24,000, Preston Crown Court heard.

In the early stages, he paid himself his wage because he had control of the financial affairs.

Mrs Hilary Banks, prosecuting, said that in early 2007, Mrs Duffin became concerned the company was struggling financially but could not see any reason for it.

She suspected someone was stealing, and arranged meetings with heads of departments to sit down and tell them of financial difficulties. The court heard that during one meeting with heads of departments, the defendant put his arms around her, cried and said “Mrs D, don't worry, we'll put it right”.

There had been no drop in bookings, in fact there had been additional weddings. She chall-enged Hetherington when given details of takings, where the figures should have been far higher, but he dismissed it.

“These became regular occurr-ences. She started challenging him on a regular basis,” said Mrs Banks. Mrs Duffin employed external accounts and was told there were lots of inconsistencies.

New computer software that was installed revealed he was making direct unauthorised payments to himself, to his own bank account at the Nationwide.

After he was dismissed in May 2008, the company began to go back into profit.

He told police he had got into financial difficulties at the end of 2006 and by the following year was trying to pay bills and sell his home.

Miss Louise Whaites, defending, said it was extremely sad that a 63-year-old old man who had led an active life, worked incredibly hard and had an impeccable lifestyle, should find himself in court.

The judge, Recorder Graham Knowles QC, told him: “This is a very serious case of breach of trust, a very substantial degree of trust was reposed in you.”