A Hampshire businessman stole almost £170,000 to stop his wife revealing he was gay, a court has heard.

Christopher Graeme Brown has been found guilty of theft from Bournemouth luxury goods firm Dawsons, where he was employed as a financial director.

Brown, 54, from Grafton Gardens, Lymington, told Bournemouth Crown Court he felt pressurised to live beyond his means after his then wife Mandy discovered he had been making phone calls to gay chatlines – and threatened to expose his sexuality.

He said: “She took exception – I was desperate not to leave the family so I got into this financial mess.”

The couple split up in 2003 and Brown started a new life in France with a male partner, with whom he set up a bed and breakfast business.

But he was forced to return to the UK after a European Arrest Warrant was issued.

He insisted he had not stolen the money from the company, where he had worked for 23 years, but had borrowed it and repaid £120,000 over a two-year period.

But jurors found him guilty of all four counts by unanimous verdicts, following more than two hours of deliberations.

Brown was granted conditional bail and warned that all sentencing options remained open, including a custodial sentence “for a serious breach of trust”.

His ex-wife, who was in court throughout the proceedings, wept tears of relief after the verdicts were returned.

Speaking after the hearing, she said: “I’m delighted the jury saw through the web of lies that he spun during the trial and that the truth has prevailed.”

Dawsons managing director Kevin Dawson, whose great-grandfather set up the business in 1927, said: “As well as being a trusted employee, Graeme was a family friend, and I’m elated justice has been done.

“He could have put a less well-established company out of business and deserves to be locked up.”

Brown has had to surrender his passport and will be electronically tagged until his sentencing on February 22.