Accountant stole £250,000 from a Sunderland car dealership as his boss needed cash to pay for his wife's cancer treatment

A "callous" accountant stole quarter-of-a-million pound his boss needed to fund private cancer treatment for his dying wife.

Friday, 17th July 2020, 5:28 pm

Financial controller Christopher Sopp, 53, was treated "like a brother" by company director Stephen Smith and was paid a £72,000 salary with bonuses, foreign trips and Premiership football tickets thrown in as treats.

When Mr Smith needed time away from the firm, a Citreon franchise at Town Centre Garages motor dealership in Sunderland, Sopp was given pre-signed cheques and trusted he would take care of the company.

But Newcastle Crown Court heard, while Mr Smith desperately tried to raise money to pay for private treatment to save his wife, Sopp was secretly pocketing the cash he needed.

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Christopher Sopp

The court heard Mr Smith's wife died in 2018 - the same year Sopp's "cold hearted" £252,000 betrayal was uncovered.

Sopp, of Thornhill Park, Sunderland, who had worked for the company for 20 years, admitted theft and false accounting between 2012 and 2017 and has now been jailed for three years.

Judge Tim Gittins told him: "Particularly cold hearted and callous your scam was for Mr Smith, who treated you like a brother, to embark and continue upon your offending in the light and knowledge of his wife's terminal illness, assuring him to the fact that you and the company were doing all that you could to assist him, knowing that he was searching for large sums of money in an effort to fund private treatment, while all the while you were stealing those very sums behind his back."

Sopp, who was married but having an affair at the time, denied he spent the cash on luxuries and claimed he wanted to give his family a comfortable life, that he never had.

Christopher Sopp

But the court heard Sopp had bought expensive jewellery, paid off the finance on his car and had two buy-to-let properties as well as his own home.

Judge Gittins told him: "The truth is, you had it all but you wanted more."

The judge said there was no risk to client's money or contracts at the car franchise despite the impact on the business, which included £50,000 in accountancy fees to unravel what Sopp had done.

Prosecutor Paul Cross told the court Mr Smith's wife suffered from cancer from 2010 until her death in 2018 and was "totally reliant" on Sopp to deal with the firm's finances.

Christopher Sopp stole the money from the Citreon franchise at Town Centre Garages motor dealership in Sunderland.

Mr Smith signed blank cheques on the understanding Sopp would countersign them when they were needed for legitimate company business.

But Mr Cross added: "Mr Sopp abused the total trust placed in him by countersigning the already signed cheques and making them payable to himself."

Mr Cross said Sopp tried to cover his tracks by claiming the monies he paid to himself had gone into the internal directors dividend account.

It was only when the company business account became "massively" overdrawn that another accountant was brought in and the true position was revealed.

Sopp was arrested and confessed what he had done, along with an apology, in a text to Mr Smith.

Daniel Cordey, defending, said Sopp, who was adopted as a baby, had wanted to provide a good life for his wife and support his children through university.

But Mr Cordey added: "He had an affair in 2017, at the peak of this offending.

"That, he would state, is very much out of character for him but he betrayed his wife.

"He ended up splitting up from his wife and, of course, that drove a wedge between him and his children.

"He had everything back in 2017, a wife, family home and property and a stable, good job.

"He has lost every single aspect of that.

"He now lives in a rented flat on his own with borrowed furniture."

Prosecutors have now launched proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act in a bid to seize any assets Sopp has.

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