A TRAINEE petrol station manager has been jailed for 15 months after stealing more than £20,000 from his bosses to pay off loan sharks.

Steven Denslow, who worked at the Family Farm service station on the A34 near Weston-on-thre-Green, raided the safe and used the cash to settle debts with people he claimed had begun to threaten his family.

The gambling addict then phoned a colleague and confessed all, before heading to a bookmakers’ to try to win back the money on roulette.

When that failed the 42-year-old, of Battle Street, Reading, handed himself in at his local police station with the £1,300 he had left.

A judge labelled the case “a sad example” of the ruinous effect of gambling but also condemned the defendant for his “calculated” crime.

Alan Blake, prosecuting, told the judge that Denslow had admitted a single charge of theft, relating to £20,768 taken from BP between September 21 and 24 last year.

The defendant, who had been working at the garage since June 2010, had got the job after lying on his application form by denying he had any criminal convictions. In fact, he had been convicted by magistrates in London of stealing from a former employer when he worked at a pub.

Mr Blake said Denslow had admitted the garage theft in a call to manager Brenda Wardle.

Mr Blake said: “He said to her: ‘I’ve done something really bad. I’ve taken the money from the safe’.

She initially thought he was joking and opened the safe to find the bag containing the cash was missing.”

Denslow then told her: “I’ve been in trouble and these people have found me. They’re going to kill me if I don’t give them money.”

He also claimed threats had been made against his father and brother.

On September 25, Denslow walked into Reading Police Station with a bag containing £1,300 in cash.

The police investigation revealed Denslow was a regular visitor to the Coral betting shop in Bicester, where he would play roulette.

Rachel Drake, defending at Oxford Crown Court, told Judge Patrick Eccles: “He (Denslow) effectively has drawn attention to what he has done by the telephone call, he has made no attempt to conceal himself in the CCTV and he has handed himself in three days later.”

She said her client had an illness in the same way as alcoholics and drug addicts.

She added: “It was not this defendant’s intention to steal this money permanently.

“He unrealistically hoped that by gambling some of it he would have been able to hand it back.”

Judge Eccles said the case showed the ruinous effect of gambling.

He told Denslow: “It has brought ruin on you and misery to your family, friends and work colleagues.”