A FORMER professional footballer who hit hard times has narrowly avoided jail for stealing money belonging to a baby hospice.
Footballer Kenneth Bolton, who was once on the books for Middlesbrough Football Club, was the manager of Golden Flatt’s Under 11s football team when he asked players’ parents and supporters of the club to sponsor him for a charity coast to coast bike ride.
The town physio, 44, said he was going to complete the challenge for Zoe’s Place, a hospice for babies in Middlesbrough.
Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court heard he printed out unauthorised sponsorship forms and collected £751 in sponsorship.
But the dad-of-two was rumbled when football club officials notified police of another matter - that they had given money to Bolton to buy football kits for the kids which had not materialised.
Married Bolton, who used to work as a physio for a semi-professional football club in the area, pleaded guilty to theft on August 30 last year.
Chairman of the magistrates’ bench Barbara Sutherland sentenced Bolton to eight weeks in custody suspended for 12 months, ordered him to carry out 160 hours of unpaid work and to pay £751 compensation to Zoe’s Place.
Prosecuting, Blair Martin told the bench of justices: “The defendant was the manager of this under 11s football team in Hartlepool. He approached parents and supporters of the club and asked them to sponsor him on a coast to coast bike ride. The sponsor money was supposed to be going to Zoe’s Place.
“The defendant recovered £752 from sponsors. The money was collected using sponsor forms which were not, in reality, authorised.
“Football club officials became concerned when the defendant was given money to source some football kits which didn’t materialise.
“The police were notified and uncovered the theft details I have relayed to you.”
He added: “Zoe’s Place had no knowledge of the defendant and had not given him any sponsor forms.
“He said he had recovered the sponsorship money, which he was going to give to charity but fell on hard times financially and spent it.”
The court was read a statement from Zoe’s Place which said: “We rely soley on donations from the general public, and incidents like this raise doubts with them.
“All the money we raise goes to the babies we support.
“Incidents like this could be to the detriment of the charity.”
A statement from the football club officials said that they “deplored” this act which saw Bolton “con parents and children out of their money” which was for charity.
In mitigation, Bolton’s solicitor Stuart Haywood, said he was “appalled, ashamed, and remorseful” for his actions.
He said: “You have to ask yourself why a man who has no previous convictions other than one when he was in the Army in 1997, would stoop to such depths. “Mr Bolton was a man who was previously on the books at Middlesbrough Football Club and when he was released by them he immediately joined the Army and was successful at football during his time in the Army and as a semi-professional player locally.
“Unfortunately the semi-professional football club he was a physio for could no longer keep him so he was released, so that was an income of about £150 to £200 per week gone over night, and in his own physiotherapy business he was given two weeks notice from his landlord so that ended too.
“His wife was on long term sick also. So as a family they went from having about £3,000 per month to that being halved.”
Mr Haywood added: “He will be outcast and alienated from a community that he was probably well thought of and loved for his achievements.”