Ex-finance chief jailed for £250,000 Buxton Opera House fraud

Buxton Opera House during the festival
Buxton Opera House during the festival

The former finance manager of Buxton Opera House stole almost £250,000 from the organisation to fund a lavish lifestyle, a court heard.

Paul Leighton spent the money on items including a season ticket for Manchester United, luxury cars and holidays.

And the theft left the High Peak Theatre Trust, which runs the opera house, fearing for its future, Derby Crown Court was told today (Friday).

Leighton, who was jailed for two years, began taking money just five days after starting work for the opera house in April 2012, having been appointed by an agency. The first amount he transferred into his account was £7,000, followed by a further £25,000 just a few days later, prosecutor Sarah Slater said.

The theft was discovered in June 2013 when Leighton went on holiday, and his assistant Annabel Millington received phone calls from suppliers who hadn’t been paid.

Between April 2012 and June 2013, he took a total of £244, 515.31, Ms Slater said. The last transaction was on June 24, five days before the theft was discovered.

“A lot of people in the community rely upon the opera house in the Buxton area,” Ms Slater said.

Leighton, 48, of Cedarwood Close, Manchester, had earlier admitted fraud.

Sara Haque, defending, told the court the case had cost Leighton everything.

Before starting work at the opera house, he had decided to become self employed but it didn’t work out, leaving him in debt, she said.

“The consequence was that at the time he began employment with Buxton Opera House he was in significant debt. He received a repossession order for the family house in February 2012.”

He told his wife it was a misunderstanding and once he started work at the theatre, he began to steal in order to pay off his mortgage arrears and avoid having his house repossessed, Ms Haque said.

But he couldn’t stop and became “greedy”, she added.

Sentencing him, Recorder Stephen Linehan QC, said: “This was a gross breach of trust. It is not a rich organisation. You could not do what you did without causing serious financial damage and you knew it.”