THE co-owner of a successful Chester company has been jailed for two years after he was caught stealing almost £200,000.

Daniel James Ashton, 36, was one of several former MBNA and Money Supermarket employees who decided to set up their own credit broker business, Digitonomy Ltd, in 2013.

The company was performing well but in 2015 a review discovered Ashton had siphoned off £193,956 from the company’s account into his personal bank account.

Chester Crown Court heard yesterday that his fellow directors felt “utterly betrayed” by the actions of someone they knew personally and trusted.

Judge Roger Dutton told Ashton: “You badly betrayed the trust of your senior colleagues who had gone into this business taking all the risks that are necessary in so doing, trusting you as they trusted each other to be honest and forthcoming. Sadly, you fell far short. This was rank dishonesty.”

Prosecuting, Jo Maxwell said the company operated by arranging unsecured loans on behalf of companies to applicants.

Ashton had been placed in charge of accounts and the company would generally pay around £500,000 to suppliers each month.

In 2015 a junior accounts employee queried some “double payments” to creditors but the defendant, who was on a salary of £60,000 a year, assured her everything was above board.

The company was flying high and recorded a profit of £2.8 million that year, the court heard.

However, a full review was carried out shortly afterwards and it was discovered the defendant had been self-authorising payments into his own bank account. The payees listed were genuine suppliers to the company.

It emerged Ashton had paid £100,000 of the money to one of the suppliers, but kept almost £94,000 to “fritter away” on himself.

He was dismissed from his role and had his shares stripped from him. Police were called and he made full admissions about the theft.

Chris Hunt, defending, said that with no accounting qualifications Ashton had quickly found himself struggling with his role and had made a number of errors. But instead of owning up to the mistakes he tried to cover them up, making the situation worse.

“It was a case of incompetence rather than greed,” Mr Hunt said. “He was trying to cover the errors he made.

“This is someone who was struggling to do the job he was given. It was very much a case of someone putting his head in the sand and matters very quickly snowballing. He was always going to be discovered.”

Ashton, of Croesmere Drive, Great Sutton, Ellesmere Port, accepted full responsibility, pleaded guilty and was ashamed of his behaviour. He had recently gone through a relationship break-up and had pay-day loans outstanding.

“He’s a humble man who knows he’s done wrong,” Mr Hunt said. “He is now destitute and lives with his mum and dad.”