Former People sports editor Lee Horton was jailed today after defrauding the title of more than £370,000.
Jailing him for 15 months, the judge described him as “a decent man who behaved badly”.
For eight years Lee Horton used his position at The People to defraud owners Trinity Mirror.
He invented 1,690 claims by contributors for sums between £150 and £390, knowing that only payments over £500 had to be referred to bosses.
He shuffled 12 different accounts for the non-existent stories, paying himself a total of £370,406.
He spent the money on his daughter’s education, donated to her school, gave to a Down’s Syndrome charity and paid for morale-boosting jaunts for his colleagues, even taking them on a golfing holiday.
Today, the one-time £90,000-a-year journalist fought back tears as he was jailed for 15 months at Southwark Crown Court.
Horton, whose wife is divorcing him, admitted false accounting and money laundering.
David Levy, prosecuting, said Horton admitted when he was caught to being “greedy” and “ridiculously generous” with other people’s money.
The “professional” and “complex” scam began in 2000 and ended in June 2008. Discussing the longevity of his offending with detectives, Horton said: “How dare they let me get away with it.”
In August 2008, his employers launched an investigation. In September that year Horton, of Beardsley Drive, Chelmsford, Essex, agreed to a civil judgment against him and has paid back nearly £300,000. The remainder will be repaid when his house is sold.
Tara McCarthy, defending, said Horton’s victim “wasn’t a vulnerable old lady”.
She said Horton, who had worked at various national newspapers, had not blown the cash on a lavish lifestyle. “He makes a stupid mistake,” she said. “And what does he do? He doesn’t buy a Ferrari.”
McCarthy added: “He has lost everything. His home, his pension and he is probably going to lose his wife.
“And he is never going to be able to work in the industry which he absolutely adores, as a newspaperman and journalist, because I would be very surprised if anybody wanted to employ him.”
Sentencing him, Judge John Price said: “You have been suffering from anxiety and depression and to cap it all off your wife is taking divorce proceedings.
“It is an extraordinary and sad case. It distresses me to do what I have to do.”
He added: “I regard you as a decent man who fell foul and behaved badly. But it is over now and you will be out in a matter of months. It will pass.”
The court heard that in 1993 Horton was convicted of handling stolen goods when he bought a £16,000 car for £6,000.