A PHONE shop manager has avoided jail despite stealing almost £8,500 from his employer and then threatening to release customers’ confidential details if they didn’t hand over his back-pay.

Kyle Headford pocketed the cash he was supposed to be banking for the company while he was working as a store manager in Hartlepool.

When his theft was discovered, the 32-year-old refused to answer calls from his bosses before sending the threatening email in February 2018.

Emma Atkinson, prosecuting, said Headford had been given the responsibility to bank the taking from the shop but an audit of accounts discovered the discrepancy.

The theft of the £8,336.43 took place between February 2017 and January 22 the following year when his crime was discovered.

Miss Atkinson said the company would have suffered if the defendant had gone through with his threats to release sensitive data.

She added: "He sent an email threatening to post personal details customers on social media if they didn't pay him his final pay.

"He demanded a response by 10am the next day or he would take further action – thankfully, he didn't."

Miss Atkinson said the money was never recovered from the defendant but some of it had been replaced through the company's insurance, which resulted in an increase in cost of insurance coverage.

Headford, who now runs his own power-wash and cleaning business, pleaded guilty to a charge of theft by employee and a further charge of blackmail.

The defendant, who represented himself during the sentencing hearing at Teesside Crown Court, his life was in a state of turmoil at the time of the offending.

He added: I was in a bad place at the time, I just went off the rails at the time. I have since set up my own business and I'm doing quite well now."

Judge Paul Watson QC sentenced Headford, of Linacre Court, Peterlee, to 14 months in prison and suspended it for 18 months for the theft and passed a concurrent suspended four-month sentence for the blackmail charge.

He said: "Your threats about releasing personal data and other things about customers, if you didn't get the money you thought you were entitled to, that is an aggravating factor of the theft and the theft was bad enough."