`Comedy' of lawyer who always lost

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A CROOKED lawyer went on a spectacularly unlucky gambling spree with tens of thousands of pounds stolen from a client, a court was told yesterday.

Edward Bentley's troubles began when a stock market investment crashed, leaving him with debts of more than pounds 30,000. His solution was to steal pounds 64,000 from a mortgage account, hoping to break the bank in Monte Carlo with a one-off bet.

But the hapless Bentley, 45, an Oxford graduate who practised as a solicitor, in Yarm, Cleveland, arrived in Monaco only to find the casino no longer took red or black bets of more than pounds 10,000.

Undeterred, Bentley flew back to London and decided to try the racetrack with a visit to Ladbrokes.

He studied the day's form, was convinced he had picked a certain winner and placed pounds 10,900 on a 3-1 "dead certainty" in a horse-race at Ayr. The horse fell.

But still Bentley remained hopeful that his luck would change. He gambled the remaining pounds 49,000 on the stock market by predicting a fall in futures prices - they went up.

Police finally caught up with Bentley after he fled his office at Forth and Co in Yarm and headed to Nottingham. There he tried to commit suicide by gassing himself in his car; the engine cut out.

In desperation he bought another second-hand car and drove to Scarborough, North Yorkshire, but his second attempt to kill himself was halted after police stopped him during a routine vehicle check.

Yesterday, he admitted theft of pounds 63,770.96 in February last year and was jailed for 15 months, suspended for two years, by a judge at Teesside Crown Court.

When Bentley, of Woodside House Farm, Witton Park, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham, was questioned by police he admitted the theft had turned into a "comic opera".

Ken Gillance, for Bentley, said: "It was more like scene from a Peter Sellers farce.

"He only wanted enough capital to maintain his wife and two children so he misappropriated the money from a client in what was a hair-brained scheme."

Sentencing Bentley, Judge Michael Taylor said it was an "exceptional case" more like a "tragedy" than a "comic opera".

He said: "I am certain that at the time you were clinically depressed. It is the only way to explain what occurred. You described it as a comic opera - it was more like a tragedy. Monte Carlo was fruitless and betting on horses leads to tears."

Bentley was ordered to pay his former employer pounds 3,000 compensation for stealing from the client fund.

The court was told that the client's money had been reimbursed by the Solicitors' Indemnity Fund.

Bentley is no longer a practising solicitor. He was struck off at a Law Society disciplinary tribunal last month.