Gambler spent £1m of firm's cash online

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The Independent Online

A bookkeeper addicted to gambling on the internet stole more than £1m from his employers, causing the company to collapse, a court was told yesterday.

In what is believed to be the biggest individual fraud committed to fund online betting, Bryan Benjafield, 23, from Dorset, who was paid £16,000 a year, was often stealing more than that each day from Charminster Ltd, a construction company, where he w orked as a payroll administrator.

The money was used to place huge online bets on horse racing, football matches and poker and other casino games.

Dorchester Crown Court heard yesterday that, between January 2004 and October 2005, Benjafield stole and gambled £1,047,550, almost a tenth of the company's annual turnover, which he siphoned from an account used by the company to pay taxes by electronic transfer, and by withdrawing cash and writing cheques to himself.

Benjafield stole the money while working in an open-plan office among employers and colleagues, who believed him to be hard at work. He ploughed all his winnings back into gambling and was often asking to borrow money from colleagues.

Benjafield, who admitted two counts of obtaining money transfer by deception, two counts of theft and one count of transfer of criminal property, will be sentenced later.

Detective Constable Paul Carpenter from Dorset police said outside court: "I haven't heard of a bigger internet gambling case."

"The thing that astonished us was that he had no idea about the scale of it. It wasn't until accounts were examined that the full extent was revealed."

Mr Carpenter said that when Benjafield was questioned, he admitted having a gambling habit. He said: "At that time he admitted that it could have been £400,000 that he had taken but was unsure himself.

"It was a massive sum."

Mike Jones, 45, the former managing director of Charminster Ltd, said yesterday that he felt "betrayed''. Mr Jones said that he had known Benjafield since he was 17 and that he had once worked as a barman in a pub Mr Jones had owned.

When he set up Charminster Ltd in 2002, he had taken Benjafield on as an accounts administrator.

He added: "I had absolutely no idea he was doing this and it is quite ironic because, at the end of the month, he was the one always asking to borrow money. He used to save up his newspapers tokens to take his girlfriend away on cheap holidays to Cornwall.

"He used to tell me he was too busy to do stuff and he had a lot of work on. But in reality he was spending all his time on internet betting sites gambling away our money. As far as I know, he wasn't very successful but at one point he did win £75,000 but pumped it straight back in and lost it."

Benjafield is said to be receiving help for his addiction. The firm collapsed, three staff were sacked and the administrators were called in. A new firm has now been created.