FORMER friends of a crooked finance whizzkid who led a millionaire lifestyle on his ill-gotten gains have spoken of their relief as he was jailed for six years yesterday.

Bogus accountant David Walsh, 38, fleeced business partners Dominic Booth and Darren Griffin out of nearly £700,000 to fund a lavish existence, which saw him driving Porsches and Ferraris, wearing flash jewellery and holidaying in Dubai.

As Mr Booth and Mr Griffin's firm - Clitheroe-based Concept Building Solutions - faced investigation by the taxman for unpaid bills, finance director Walsh still tried to bluff his way out of trouble.

He invented a fictious Iranian businessman, who he said was willing to invest millions of pounds into their insurance franchise company.

But in reality the make-believe tycoon - Christian Shajore - was the name of one of his Persian cats.

Walsh, of Prince's Reach, Preston, had set up a clearing account, in the cat's name, through which he moved the majority of the money he stole from Concept, Preston Crown Court, heard yesterday.

And when the cheated partners confronted Blackburn-born Walsh, demanding answers, he claimed they had kidnapped him.

The pair faced a police interview before the authorities turned their attentions to Walsh and his web of deceit.

Until April 10, when he was due to face trial, Walsh maintained he knew nothing about a string of around 200 thefts from Concept, over a two-year period from January 2004.

Yesterday he was jailed by Judge Philip Sycamore, who told him he had been motivated by "extr-vagance and greed."

The court heard that Walsh, who faced a mountain of debts from banks and credit card companies, had no formal accountancy qualific-ations.

He had previously admitted theft of £680,000.

Nick Dean, defending, said his client was genuinely remorseful about his actions and now wanted to rebuild his life with his new wife Caroline in Northern Ireland, following the case.

After the case Mr Booth said: "He was very plausible and very genuine. He has been called a Walter Mitty character and that is about right." We even got e-mails and document-ation from Christian Shajore.

"The sentence was probably more than we anticipated but it does fit the crime that has been committed."

Mr Griffin added: "This has cost us a lot from a financial aspect and from a personal point of view as well.

"But we have both got large families, who have supported us through this, and that is the important thing for us."

Today Concept is thriving again, despite Walsh's efforts, with more than 100 franchises for its home and commercial buildings insurance claim opera-tion across the UK.

But they might never see the missing £680,000 which Walsh plundered. Lawyers have adjourned a confiscation hearing, pending investigations into where the outstanding cash might be, until later this year.

Neither Concept partner is confident the hoard will ever be recovered.