'I'm very lucky': Gambling addict who stole £1m on his new life out of prison
- Credit: Danielle Booden
It is 10 years since Steve Girling sought help from his GP for stress, seven years since he started stealing to fund his gambling addiction and two years since he was jailed for a £1m theft.
But now out of prison, the Costessey father-of-two is looking to the future.
The 38-year old lost two stone while serving his time, took mentoring courses and helped teach other inmates maths. He has now set up a non-profit company with his wife, Rashael, to help recovering gambling addicts.
“The only resource you have in prison is time so I decided to make use of that by trying to explore myself," he said. "I wanted to work out, why did I turn to gambling? How do I live with what I’ve done?"
Answering those questions, Steve traced his problems back to being stressed at work over the previous decade. He switched jobs hoping that would help and he became a finance director for a company called Premier Education Group, but the stress continued, he said.
“I was thinking, I have a good salary, I can’t turn around to my family and say, 'I’m not enjoying this, I want to do something else for half the pay’.
“But I should have had that conversation. Instead I ended up self-medicating by gambling.”
That self-medication spiralled to extremes. He spent up to £50,000 a day on online slot machines and was rewarded with VIP treatment by betting firms.
They took him on all-expenses paid trips to watch horse racing in Dubai, Ascot and Cheltenham.
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He funded the addiction by taking more and more money from his employer, which, as finance director, he was able to do undetected from 2014 to 2017.
Not all of that money went on gambling. He put some into savings, set up Isas for his children and moved to a larger house.
It led to Judge Stephen Holt, who sentenced him in January 2019 to four years in prison, to question how extreme his addiction was.
“People who really suffer from extreme gambling addictions tend to arrive here with nothing, only debts,” Judge Holt said in court. “You arrived here with some considerable assets.”
But Steve said he was in no doubt about the devastation his addiction caused.
He said he wrote two letters to his ex-employer but understandably didn’t hear back.
While he was in prison his wife Rashael had to sell their house to pay back some of the stolen money. He said his wife, along with children Izzy, 15, and Henry, 11, were close to having to ask the council for help with housing, but found somewhere to rent.
“Rashael is a victim of my actions too and she has had to piece together the harm I have caused," he said. “I was very, very lucky that my family stayed by me.
"They were remarkably resilient. Of course they missed their dad, but we spoke on the phone most days and they visited each week. We can now talk openly about what happened.”
He said the therapy he received before he was jailed, from counselling service Breakeven, meant he could now watch a gambling advert on television and feel no urges.
“All it (a TV advert) does is show me how normalised gambling is in the UK,” he said. “The younger generation are growing up seeing their football teams sponsored by gambling companies and it seems normal to them.
“For me gambling companies should be treated like tobacco firms and have advertising restricted. Gambling addiction should be on the health agenda.”
In prison he said he found services for drug and alcohol addicts but nothing for gambling. Indeed, gambling was ever-present, he said, with tins of tuna and chocolate bars being wagered instead of cash. A prison officer even invited him to take part in a Grand National sweepstake, he said.
He was released on New Year's Eve and his new Community Interest Company, Reframe, has now been awarded its first bit of funding to help other gambling addicts once their treatment has finished.
“My treatment was really good but I was left with a range of issues in my life afterwards - my weight, my career, my financial situation; my self-esteem was really low," he said.
“There is a stigma, particular with men's mental health,” he said. “I hope talking about it helps remove some of that stigma.”
-For help with a gambling addiction contact the National Gambling HelpLine on 0808 8020 133 or visit gamcare.org.uk