A LANCASHIRE County Council contracts manager used a trail of bogus invoices to pocket nearly £1million as part of a sophisticated scheme to defraud his employers and taxpayers.

Stephen Crewdson, 46, lived a luxury lifestyle, buying an Aston Martin and splashing out £172,000 on credit cards and £38,000 on holidays, during the four-year con.

The father-of-three, who was a senior figure at the council's Whalley engineering depot, established his own company, BBM, to siphon off funds for contracts, some of which were never even undertaken, Preston Crown Court heard.

Crewdson, formerly of Old Langho, even embroiled two East Lancashire tradesmen in his plot, persuading them to run invoices through their books, according to prosecutors.

Jailing him for seven-and-a-half years, Judge Graham Knowles QC said: "Your mild manner and other virtues concealed your corrupt core."

Mark Monaghan, prosecuting, said the defendant persuaded Michael Cottam, of Blackburn-based builders Cottam and Hoole, an approved council contractor, to process payments for a series of major engineering contracts.

He told Mr Cottam that the work was being carried out by various firms which were not then approved by the authority.

The company was allowed to keep five per cent of the contract value, with 95 per cent being transferred to BBM, Crewdson's own outfit.

Crewdson also approached Dean Hall, who ran his own groundworks firm, asking him to process a series of invoices, totalling £30,000, along similar lines.

But Crewdson was caught out when Cottam and Hoole's book-keeper. Louise Abbott, queried an invoice with one supposed sub-contractor, Roocrofts.

Crewdson, now of Ducie Street, Manchester, was found guilty of two offences of fraud and two charges of money laundering, after a four-week trial.

He was cleared of conspiracy to defraud by abuse of his position.

Mr Cottam, 47, of Park Farm Road, Blackburn, and Mr Hall, 37, of Booth Crescent, Waterfoot, were found not guilty of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering offences involving Crewdson.