A BUSINESSMAN has been jailed after stealing more than £400,000 from his company's accounts.

James Milton Howard-Higgins was the co-founder of Orchid Maritime Security Ltd based in Poole.

Around three years ago, it was discovered that the 44-year-old had stolen around £260,000 from the company, a consultancy practice specialising in maritime security and training solutions.

Howard-Higgins, of the Avenue in Poole, admitted the offences to the director and it was decided that the debt would be absorbed into the company.

He had his credit cards removed and his dealings with company money were closely monitored.

In November 2014 it was discovered that Howard-Higgins had taken out another company credit card in the name of a woman who had nothing to do with the business.

The matter was again dealt with internally and Howard-Higgins was forced to stand down as a director and downgrade his shares.

He was also removed as a signatory on the account in December 2014.

In April 2015 questions were raised over money not being received and outstanding invoices, the court was told.

Enquiries were made and the company director discovered that vast sums of money had been paid into Howard-Higgins’ personal account. Howard-Higgins resigned and admitted stealing the money. In total, £426,406 was stolen.

The matter was reported to Dorset Police and Howard-Higgins was arrested. He was charged in February this year.

The defendant admitted seven counts of fraud.

On Monday, October 31, he appeared at Southampton Crown Court and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Detective Constable Michelle Lawrence, of Bournemouth CID, said: “James Howard-Higgins systematically stole from his business partner over a sustained period of time despite being caught in the act and given numerous second chances.

“He selfishly abused his position of trust and I hope the sentence given will act as a reminder that anyone convicted of fraud offences will be dealt with robustly by the courts.”

Howard-Higgins was also disqualified as acting as a co-director of a company for 10 years and was told Proceeds of Crime proceedings would begin.