A SOLICITOR who stole thousands of pounds from his law firm after getting into debt has been jailed.

Ian Benbow, from Blackrod, also defrauded clients out of £64,000 after using their money to settle cases when he fell behind with his work.

Benbow, aged 31, of Lymbridge Drive, spun a web of “outrageous lies” while dipping into 16 clients’ bank accounts at Molesworths Bright-Clegg solicitors in Rochdale, Minshull Street Crown Court heard.

Benbow, who specialised in civil litigation, was a “trusted and valued employee” who descended into a “fantasy world” after struggling at work.

Over 18 months he stole £11,400 to settle debts, pay for Christmas presents and food shopping. He also began using clients’ money to pay off cases he falsely claimed had been settled. But he was caught out over his mishandling of a large litigation case.

Benbow settled the action using another client’s money and tried to cover his tracks by setting up a fake email account.

But one of the firms involved became suspicious and alerted a senior partner at Molesworths Bright-Clegg.

Benbow was suspended in February, 2012, and charged with fraud and theft.

Lisa Boocock, prosecuting, said Benbow’s activities could end up costing Molesworth Bright Clegg £85,000.

The firm has already repaid £64,000 and is dealing with two negligence claims totalling £20,000.

Gwyn Lewis, defending, said Benbow intended to pay off the money using a personal injury claim of £500,000 his wife was expecting after she was involved in a car accident.

Mr Lewis said Benbow, who was a carer for his wife, fully accepted responsibility for his actions but said he had felt under pressure to achieve.

“He always had the intention to pay the money back,” said Mr Lewis.

Benbow joined the Molesworths in 2004 as a trainee after gaining a first class law degree. He went on to specialise in civil litigation and qualified as a solicitor in 2007.

Benbow pleaded guilty to fraud and theft and was jailed for two years.