A FORMER hotel worker pocketed thousands of pounds from an airport shuttle bus to fund his gambling addiction.

Andrew Brown was responsible for taking £3 sums from guests as they got on the coach from Gatwick to the Premier Inn.

But the 56-year-old forged signatures to suggest the money was paid in to the hotel.

Over a period of two years, he stole £70,000 to fund his gambling habit.

It means he took the cash from more than 23,000 passengers between April 2014 and March 2016.

At Hove Crown Court he admitted the charge of theft by an employee and was given an 18-month suspended prison sentence by Judge David Rennie, who recognised gambling addiction as an illness.

Richard Elliott, prosecuting, said that when confronted, Brown tried to put suspicion on others, but the receipts had been put in his own handwriting.

He said the coach passengers would hand over the £3 sum for the shuttle bus service to the airport terminals.

But Brown was found out, and faced a potential prison sentence.

Sarah Taite, defending, said Brown, of Medway Road in Crawley, did not seek to excuse his behaviour, but said things had “gone wrong” in his life at the time.

She said: “His father had died and gambling was a slippery slope, he was in a dark place at that time. He repaid gambling debts through the theft, and has been candid about that.

“Mr Brown has taken steps to address his addiction, his family told him to face the cold harsh reality of having to sort out his depression and gambling or leave.

“He has not lived an affluent lifestyle.”

She said he has since addressed his gambling addiction.

Judge Rennie asked how he had done so and said: “It is conventionally regarded as an illness, it’s not something you can just say ‘you know what, I’m going to stop’.”

Ms Taite said Brown had got support from his GP and mental health services to tackle his problem.

She said: “His family pushed him to get help and sort his life out. He knew he risked losing his family and being thrown out.

“So he has clawed his way back to a position where he was not gambling.”

Now he is working as a part-time cleaner and is also a carer for his mother. But he suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease so is not eligible to complete unpaid work.

Judge Rennie said while Brown had no previous convictions, the continued commission of the offence over two years showed “ongoing dishonesty”.

“If you were not suffering from a gambling addiction, which is a form of illness, then you would be going straight to prison.

“Few people break their addiction without professional help.

“Whether you were in the grips of this powerful addiction or not, I accept that you have managed to overcome that.”

The judge added that if Premier Inn sought to recover the money, it would have to pursue a case in another court.