A JUDGE criticised internet betting sites yesterday when he jailed a gambling addict who stole more than ?1 million from his bosses and spent it betting online.

Judge Andrew Langdon said that he was staggered at the ease with which Bryan Benjafield, 23, plundered the money on the internet. 

During a period of 18 months Benjafield, a ?16,000-a-year book-keeper spent up to ?17,000 a day on internet poker, online casinos and sports events. He siphoned ?1,097,550 from his firm?s bank account to fund his addiction.

Jailing him for five years at Dorchester Crown Court, Judge Langdon, the recorder, said: ?It says something for the power of your addiction to gambling that, despite the low rate of return on your mindless betting, you carried on despite the obvious consequences.

?The ease with which a desperate man addicted to gambling could spend enormous sums is bluntly staggering. Internet or online gambling has made it much easier, regretfully, for enormous sums to be spent unthinkingly.?

Benjafield, from Bere Regis, Dorset, won about ?50,000 but lost the equivalent of a tenth of his company?s annual turnover, forcing it out of business.

The court heard that Mike Jones, the managing director of Charminster, based in Dorchester, Dorset, had known Benjafield since he was 17 and trusted him implicitly.

But he did not know that Benjafield had been addicted to gambling on fruit machines from a young age.

The judge added: ?Sympathy must be reserved for Mr and Mrs Jones who worked hard to build up a business. They thought you were someone in whom they could place their trust.?

Benjafield, who is married with a 12-month-old son, was told that he would serve at least half of the sentence.

Sadie Rizzo, for the prosecution, told the court that Benjafield went to work for Charminster, a payroll company for the construction industry, in June 2003.

Within a year Mr Jones had given him access to the company accounts and authority to withdraw cash for wages. But Benjafield paid ?fistfuls? of company cheques into his own bank account.

He also transferred money electronically into his accounts with Ladbrokes and Skybet.

Mr Jones became suspicious last October when he noticed irregularities in the company accounts. He also discovered that a Customs and Excise bill had not been paid. Benjafield blamed it on a software problem.

Miss Rizzo said: ?A data recovery system was installed on Benjafield?s computer. It became apparent he had been visiting a number of gambling sites and that files had been deleted and he had stolen money.?
 
Charminster went into administration in November 2005 with debts of ?742,242. Three people were laid off.
Benjafield pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining money transfer by deception, two counts of theft and one count of transfer of criminal property.

The offences were committed between January 1, 2004, and October 28, 2005.

David Campbell, for the defence, said that Benjafield had ignored offers of race-day perks from Ladbrokes.

He added: ?He wishes to apologise to Laura and Michael Jones, who were good employers, and he wishes to apologise to the employees who lost their jobs.?

Mr Jones, 45, said: ?I have no sympathy for him. He knew what he was doing.

?It is no good saying he was an addict to excuse what he did.?

Keiran O?Brien, of Ladbrokes, said that it had procedures to detect money laundering and other crimes. But he said that if an account holder?s money was paid from a genuine high street bank account suspicions would not be raised as a matter of course.

No one was available from Skybet for comment.

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