A FORMER business operations manager who betrayed the Bury company who took him on as an apprentice and helped him rise through the ranks by stealing almost £21,000 has been spared jail.

Lewis Wroe, 26, began working at Blacks Business Brokers in 2013 and fast made an impression on those around him., a court heard.

He was praised for his intelligence and dedication and soon found himself as office manager but found himself in trouble with his mental and physical health, Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court was told.

Between February and April 2019 he made contact with people who owed the company money and told them if they paid it to him he would be able to reduce the amount they were due to pay.

In total he carried out 24 transactions like this, taking more than £20,000 from the company.

Those who employed him spent three months working 12 hours a day, seven days a week to track all the lost money.

When confronted he admitted it was him and confessed when interviewed by the police.

Prosecutor Colin Buckle read from a victim impact statement provided by company director Christopher Rowlands, who spoke highly of the defendant.

“He was employed from 2013, he describes him as enthusiastic and intelligent," said Mr Buckle.

He added that they spent months afterwards checking each others work and had to withdraw bonuses.

Mr Buckle said: “There has been incalculable damage done to this business.”

But Mr Rowlands also wrote he could see "any advantage" in jailing Wroe, as he had a young family.

Ellen Shaw, defending, said the family of the father-of-two, who has Crohn's Disease, would be worried if he was sent to jail due to his health problems.

Judge Tina Landale branded his conduct “disgraceful” but opted not to send him to jail.

Wroe, formerly from Tottington but now of Claremont Road, Folkestone, who admitted to theft, was given a 15-month suspended prison sentence, with 15 days of rehabilitation activities and a six-month curfew.

He will also be back in court to establish how much money he can repay in April.

Speaking later, Mr Rowlands said: "I am proud of the professional way all the staff at Blacks dealt with the aftermath of Lewis’s actions.

"Now he has been sentenced I hope he will grasp this second chance, reflect on what he has done, and take this opportunity to turn things around for the sake of his family."