A GAMBLING addict who used a dating website to fleece an older man out of nearly £30,000 has been spared jail.

Benjamin Lewis contacted his victim, a 'sympathetic' older man in his late 60s, and tricked him out of £29,908, telling him he had lost his job, his mother had died and his dad had suffered a heart attack.

The 24-year-old claimed he needed the money for petrol so he could get to a job interview, for car repairs and to go and see his father in hospital in North Wales.

Lewis of Oak Tree Close, Evesham, admitted fraud by false representation and was handed a suspended sentence at Worcester Crown Court on Wednesday.

The defendant, who has yet to pay back a penny of the cash, even claimed he had been stabbed while he was at the cashpoint withdrawing money to reimburse his victim, Robert Shepherd.

The cash was paid into Lewis's account via bank transfer in 246 transactions between May 31, 2015 and October 16, 2016. By far the victim's biggest expense were the payments to Lewis, the court heard.

It was taken as an aggravating feature that the victim was not a man of substantial means.

Chloe Ashley, prosecuting, said Lewis and Mr Shepherd made contact on the online dating site before exchanging telephone numbers before contact continued through texts and phone calls.

Lewis told Mr Shepherd about the death of his mother, said he had lost his job but claimed he was eager to work. Miss Ashley said Lewis, who is heterosexual, was interviewed by police in August this year, telling them that his mother had died and 'at the time of this offence he had gone off the rails'.

Emily Heggadon, defending, said her client was 21 years old at the time and argued that 'it wasn't a particularly sophisticated or calculated fraud' and that he had 'a lot going on in his personal life'.

"He had just lost his mother. Unfortunately he's addicted to gambling" she said.

She said Lewis had been 'surprised' when Mr Shepherd gave him money and described the victim as 'an adult male in his late 60s'.

Her client played in the 'Welsh pool league' and received some money from that, she said.

"He would really, dearly like to be able to repay Mr Shepherd but, at this stage, there's not a lot of excess money floating about" said Miss Heggadon.

Recorder John Steel QC described the victim as ‘a highly sympathetic man’ and said that the money he had transferred to Lewis was by far the largest expenditure in his bank account.

“There is no indication that Mr Shepherd is a man of substantial means whatsoever” he said.

He described how Lewis continued asking for money on a regular basis until Mr Shepherd became suspicious. The victim even contacted the AA to make his own enquiries. discovering that the defendant’s claims were not consistent with the company’s protocols over replacing a car tyre.

Recorder Steel said: “You asked for money to visit your father. You said your father had had a heart attack in North Wales and you required some funds for petrol.

“There were many other incidents in which you requested funds which were clearly completely false and raised suspicion by the victim, including your gaining employment in Preston with a plant company which was in fact based in Melbourne, Australia.

“You also said you were intending to pay him back some £2,300. You did not do so and came up with a story you had been assaulted en route to the cashpoint and stabbed in the leg, requiring you to go to hospital.”

However, the judge took into account that Lewis had no previous convictions, guilty plea, his youth and his co-operation with the police.

Recorder Steel added: "There's clearly a lack of maturity and a gambling addiction. He has expressed remorse and would like to pay the money back to the victim."

The judge sentenced him to 12 months in prison suspended for 18 months and ordered him to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

A proceeds of crime application was also drawn up and any application for compensation to the victim and costs will await the outcome of that hearing on March 19 next year.