A FINANCE director who stole almost £8million from Duncan Bannatyne's business is having his assets stripped and must pay back everything he has.

Darlington man Christopher Watson was yesterday (Fri, March 18) ordered to repay £484,338 - the equity in five properties, designer watches and a caravan.

The total also includes a pension which will have to be handed over in compensation as soon as the policy matures, Teesside Crown Court was told.

Watson was jailed for four years and eight months in November after he admitted one count of fraud representing him taking £7,974,221 between 2008 and 2014.

He also pleaded guilty to five counts of transferring criminal property - representing homes he bought in the Darlington area - with the stolen cash.

After yesterday's hearing, Detective Sergeant Thomas Maughan, from the North East Regional Asset Recovery Team, said: “The order made today means that Mr Watson has to pay £484,338.62 within three months, otherwise a default jail sentence of three years may be imposed.

"After his offending was identified, the North East Regional Fraud Team, alongside our team and Crown Prosecution Service secured his known assets by using a Restraint Order and this will remain in place until all known assets are realised.

"Very importantly, Bannatyne Fitness Limited will receive compensation to the full value of the confiscation order made today.

"Unlike some forms of compensation, this will not be paid monthly at a nominal amount, as Mr Watson’s current financial worth has been calculated and he should therefore pay this within three months. I’d like to thank all partners involved."

Watson, of Cleveland Avenue, Darlington, was said by his barrister to have been exposed to a "culture of undoubtedly corrupt company management".

The gambling addict and married father-of-three took huge sums over a period of years to cover his debts with major betting firms, the court was told.

Mr Bannatyne, famous from the Dragons' Den BBC series, was not in court, but said in a victim personal statement at the time: "I'm absolutely shocked and appalled at the callous actions of Mr Watson."

The entrepreneur said he had raised the issue of increasing some staff's pay from the Minimum Wage level at meetings, but "Chris Watson argued cash flow would not allow it".

Mr Bannatyne said he refinanced the firm in 2014, and sold freehold land which he had to then rent back, "although it had always been my plan to pass the land along with my companies to my children".