A FRAUDSTER who stole his wife's company credit card to help fund his drug habit and online shopping has narrowly avoided being sent to prison.

Paul Cook used his IT skills to hack into his estranged wife's work computer system to use the credit card he had stolen out of her handbag after his life 'spiralled out of control'.

The 32-year-old spent more than £5,500 in a four-day spending spree last year whilst he was in the grip of his drug addiction, Teesside Crown Court heard

Jenny Haigh, prosecuting, said Cook's wife was employed by Cummins when he took the cards from her handbag on a date before August 24.

She said it happened when he had access to his then estranged wife's home, and the 45 transactions were between August 24 and 28.

Miss Haigh said he told police he used the cards for various purchases with PayPal, Skrill and Argos, he withdrew money and used it to buy drugs, and also topped up his phone.

The court heard how Cook had fraudulently used his wife's details to access the company bank account she had access to while working for Darlington-based engine manufacturing company Cummins.

She said Cook used his IT skills to crack his wife's security password and pin number before spending the money.

Miss Haig said the couple were paying back the money that Cook defrauded from the engineering firm.

Cook, of Prior Court, Billingham, pleaded guilty to three charges – fraud, theft and misuse of computer equipment – following his arrest.

In mitigation, Michele Turner said the couple were now reunited and were working towards repaying the money defrauded from her employer.

"He made a full and frank admission when arrested and interviewed by the police," she said.

"This is possibly one of the few relationships that has got better throughout this lockdown."

Miss Turner told the court how Cook had lost his job as a result of his arrest but was now working as a delivery driver as he attempts to crack his drug addiction.

She added: "Following the death of his grandfather, who brought him up, his whole world fell apart then his life spiralled out of control."

Judge Jonathan Carroll sentenced Cook to 12 months in custody, suspended for two years and ordered him to pay £2,400 in compensation to the engine manufacturing company.

Dismissing the argument that his life spiralled out of control following his grandfather's death, he said: "These circumstances occurred during a period of turmoil when you were in experiencing a degree of personal crisis.

"I have sympathy for anybody who has lost someone who is close to them; it''s a fact of life that everybody goes through.

"I reject that argument, your crisis was caused by your drug addiction."

Cook was also ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work and 25 rehabilitation activity requirement days.