A COMPANY finance boss siphoned off almost three-quarters of a million pounds from his employer into his bank accounts to fund his gambling addiction.

Stephen Barrett, of Hollis Close, Witney, took £735,108 from the Grove lighting company where he worked over eight years, but was caught out by his assistant while he was on holiday.

The 58-year-old was jailed for four years on Monday after Oxford Crown Court heard of the devastating effect of his crime on WILA Lighting Ltd, in Grove Technology Park.

Prosecutor Sandra Beck said Barrett took money within a month of joining the independent business as financial controller in 2006.

She said: “He held a very responsible position managing all the financial activity.”

But assistant Hayley Clifford spotted an irregularity while he was on holiday in December 2013 and then found other suspicious payments, sparking an enquiry.

Barrett earned £60,000 a year, but had been taking money out of four company accounts and paying fake invoices from a fictitious supplier into his own accounts.

Sums taken each year ranged from £8,364 to £224,901.

Miss Beck said he admitted taking the money when confronted and pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud.

The court heard a statement from Michael Collett, chief executive and owner of WILA , whose projects have included the Said Business School in Oxford, the ‘Gherkin’ office building in London and the University of Oxford’s chemistry building.

He said: “The effect on my business has been severe to say the least. The loss of about £750,000 has led to redundancies, the loss of key managers and stress to those close to the issue, including health issues for me as the person responsible for finding answers.”

Mr Collett, who employs 28 staff in the UK and 100 in Germany, said he had always seen Barrett as a “respected, trusted and extremely valued member” of the management team and he had been left traumatised by the fraud.

Peter Du Feu, defending, said Barrett had been able to hide what he was doing from the company auditors as well as his own family who had been “absolutely shocked” by the revelation. He said Barrett had gambled using bookmaker websites such as Paddy Power and Ladbrokes.

Mr Du Feu said: “The gambling has taken a terrible toll and with internet gambling it is so easy. He is absolutely ashamed.”

Judge Ian Pringle said: “A gambling addiction in my view is an illness, but the amount you took over a prolonged period makes this a category one offence.”