A FORMER hotel night porter tried to flee the country with almost £4,000 ­stolen from a safe.

Murray Crofts, 32, of Alder Close, Eaton Ford, was working at the George Hotel, in George Street, Huntingdon, on January 12-13, when he took the safe key and stole at least £3,707.84 and the bank card details of two hotel customers.

He then drove to Oxmoor to get a bag before returning to the hotel and taking a taxi at 1am to Stansted Airport, where he was arrested.

Crofts also used a bank card belonging to a hotel customer to buy £50 of goods from Vodafone.

Members of staff at the George Hotel raised the alarm when they arrived in the morning of January 13 and they thought they had been burgled.

Crofts was linked with the theft after he failed to turn up to work later on.

Duncan O'Donnell, prosecuting, told Peterborough Crown Court yesterday (Tuesday) that Crofts took the money from the hotel safe and "made off, leaving not member of staff on duty".

Mr O'Donnell said Crofts had a long history of dishonesty dating back to 1998 when he was convicted of burglary and theft while working at Poundstretchers, in Wisbech.

The court heard Crofts, who most recently worked as a part-time driver's mate, had 11 previous convictions for 33 offences, including fraud using stolen credit or bank cards, giving a garage attendant the wrong details in order to make off without paying for fuel, and handling stolen goods - a numberplate.

John Kirkpatrick, mitigating, said that Crofts had a troublesome life growing up and was in foster care from the age of 12 until 17.

He said Crofts had started on a downward spiral after breaking up with his partner of nine years, with whom he has three children.

The break-up left him depressed, drinking too much and "associating with people he shouldn't have been associating himself with", the court heard.

"As for the reason he did it, he says 'I just wanted to get away from it all'," Mr Kirkpatrick told the judge. "Which is what he wanted to do before he was arrested at Stansted Airport."

Recorder John Bate-Williams said Crofts' breach of trust as an employee was significant and it was merciful that nothing happened to the hotel customers during the four hours the hotel was without a staff member - Crofts, he said, was responsible for their security, health and safety.

Mr Bate-Williams said: "Due to your long history of dishonesty and the absence of remorse and guilt, the public and your former employers at the George Hotel would think a suspended sentence with community orders inadequate. This is so serious that only a custodial sentence is justified."

Crofts was given two years in jail for theft by an employee, a further two months each for fraud, possession of articles for use in frauds, and taking a vehicle without consent. The jail terms were to run consecutively, making two-and-a-half years.

His licence was also endorsed with six points for driving without insurance and three points for driving without a licence.

Mr O'Donnell asked the judge to launch a financial investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act because it was believed that Crofts stole more money than was recovered.