A gay finance director charged with stealing £170,000 from his employer claims that he was blackmailed by the woman who was his wife at the time, who threatened to out him publicly.

Christopher Brown, 54, said that he wrote 56 cheques to himself from Dawsons, the luxury goods firm he worked at for 23 years. He claims he did so in order to meet the demands of his now ex-wife, Mandy Brown.

According to the Telegraph, Brown claimed that Mrs Brown found a phone bill in 1997 which revealed that he had been calling gay chat lines. He says she then threatened to reveal his sexuality publicly if he didn’t meet her financial demands.

“I was desperate not to leave the family so I got into this financial mess”, he said.

The thefts from Dawsons took place over a period of four years. The money was used to fund private education for the Browns’ son, as well as buying a ring and a new car for Mrs Brown.

The couple eventually split up in 2003 and Brown moved from Lymington in Hampshire to France, to set up a Bed and Breakfast with a male partner.

Dawsons then discovered the deficit in their funds and tried to summon Brown to the UK for questioning, but he refused. A European Arrest Warrant was issued for him in 2009. He was arrested in France in 2011 and extradited to the UK in April 2012.

Brown denied the charges of theft and claimed that he had already paid back £120,000.

However, he was found guilty of four counts of theft and has been released on bail, after his first wife granted a surety of £100,000.

Mrs Brown, who was his second wife, said she “completely denied” the allegations. No police action has been taken against her.