A GAMBLING addict who stole more than £126,000 from his employers has been jailed for two years.

Mark Christian Dougill, who had been employed by Lostock based Eon devised a way of raising refund cheques for accounts which had been closed by commercial customers.

But he would then change the payee details and addresses and send them to friends and acquaintances, who cashed them and split the proceeds with him.

At Bolton Crown Court today, Dougill, 36, of Frinton Road, Hulton, Bolton fought back tears as Neil Fryman, defending, read out a letter from his wife Chantelle describing the devastating effect his crime has had on her and their young daughter and how Dougill has considered suicide.

She did not know about his gambling addiction or the thefts from work until the day he was suspended following an accounting check at the company last year.

At an earlier hearing Dougill had pleaded guilty to 15 charges of theft.

Guilty pleas to concealing criminal property were also entered by those who had been recruited to receive the cheques.

They were Geoffrey Johnson, 33, of Brackley Street, Walkden, Jason Banks, aged 37, of Elsie Street, Bolton, Michael Burke, aged 36, of Manchester Road East, Little Hulton, Anthony Foreman, aged 36, of Hopefield Drive, Walkden, Dennis Hunt, aged 49, of Ridyard Street, Little Hulton and Christopher Worrall, aged 40, of Burnley Road, Bacup.

Andrew Hayes, aged 32, of Buttermere Road, Farnworth had denied concealing criminal property but was found guilty following a trial.

The court heard that Dougill had worked for Eon for 19 years and was a team leader with 15 staff working under him when, in 2005 he began stealing money from his employers.

Ann Hughes, prosecuting, told how he would search the company's database for commercial customers who had closed their accounts.

He would then alter the final meter readings and cause refund cheques to be issued, which had their names and addresses amended and sent to his acquaintances and friends.

Between October 7 2005 and December 6 2006 he stole 15 cheques, worth a total of £126,304.03.

But his crimes were discovered in April last year due to routine accounting procedures. At a disciplinary hearing he admitted the thefts and was sacked, with the matter passed to the police.

"He had a real and genuine gambling addiction," said Mr Fryman, who added that Dougill has now been attending Gamblers Anonymous for a year.

"This was not someone who lived a lavish lifestyle. It had a real grip on him."

Foreman was sent three cheques totalling more than £19,000 and Worrell was sent five cheques to a value of £45,000 and each kept a third of the proceeds returning two thirds to Dougill.

They in turn recruited the others, taking a cut of the payments as "commission".

Sentencing Dougill to two years in jail, half of which will be on licence, Judge Elliot Knopf said all the men had previously been of good character.

"Others were sucked into the mire of deceit and dishonesty," he told Dougill.

Foreman and Worrall, who Judge Knopf described as Dougill's "lieutenants" were each sentenced to 12 months in prison, half of which will be on licence. Burke received six months in prison suspended for 12 months and will complete 200 hours unpaid work while Johnson and Hunt were each sentenced to three months in prison suspended for 12 months with 100 hours unpaid work.

Hayes was sentenced to 10 months prison suspended for 12 months and will do 300 hours unpaid work.

Banks, who is currently in hospital, will be sentenced at a later date.

Speaking after the sentencing DC Richard Armstrong, of Bolton CID said: "This is not a victimless crime. At a time when people are concerned about the rising costs of energy bills, the money lost by this company may have consequences for customers."