AN ACCOUNTANT who scammed the Ministry of Defence out of more than £100,000 to pay off mounting debts has been jailed.

Damian Leach defrauded the MoD for more than three years through a 'sophisticated and sustained' operation at St George's Barracks, Bicester.

The ex-regimental accountant covered his tracks so successfully that even his family were initially oblivious to his actions, enabling Leach to live a 'double life'.

The 44-year-old of Crosslands in Fringford, near Bicester, showed no emotion as he was sentenced to two years in prison at Oxford Crown Court today.

Leach had pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and one count of false accounting in March, relating to activities between April 2013 and September 2016.

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Today, the court heard the amount of money he took from the MoD 'spiralled' to reach more than £106,000 as he tried to pay off gambling debts.

Judge Maria Lamb told Leach that despite his previously 'blameless' life, he had to face the consequences.

She said: "This was a gross abuse of a position of trust over a sustained period of time.

"Your relatively sophisticated behaviour made sure you covered your tracks and you were successful for three years.

"I feel very sad for your wife, who has been left with the responsibility of coping with a financial situation and, of course, I feel extremely sorry for your children.

"The message must be that people in your position of trust must expect to go straight to prison if they steal this sort of amount of money."

Leach had worked for the MoD since 1993 and was responsible for managing payments from credit and debit accounts, along with fundraising money and mess accounts.

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The court heard how a colleague at the barracks returned from maternity leave in July 2016 to find irregularities with cheques worth £6,000 paid to Leach's personal credit card.

In October 2016 the MoD was notified of possible fraudulent activity and began an 'extensive examination', which uncovered Leach's actions.

As well as paying himself with cheques and removing money from a cash box and safe, the accountant also manipulated accounts with 'no direct benefit to himself', simply to cover his tracks.

'In many instances' he produced a documentary trail that suggested the payments were legitimate, the court heard.

In September 2017, Leach was questioned by police and a forensic accountant and fully admitted all allegations, while he also claimed he had a gambling problem.

The court was told that his credit card was £60,000 in debt and he was 'unable to estimate' the amount he stole.

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In mitigation at today's hearing, defence barrister Alistair Grainger spoke of Leach's 'sheer relief' when he was caught.

He said: "This is a man that had been lying to his wife, his family and his employers, and living a double life.

"He was struggling to keep body and soul together.

"He sat on this secret for three years and didn't even tell his wife when police knocked on the door. He only came clean after spending time in custody."

The barrister added Leach had closed his online betting accounts and reached out to debt charity StepChange, while since February 2017 he had tried to stabilise his private finances, now managed by his wife.

Leach was jailed for two years for one count of fraud worth £101,560, while a two-year term for false accounting and a nine-month sentence for the second count of fraud will be served concurrently.