TWO businessmen posted more than 1,000 items without paying in a con at their mail-order fish ornament business.
Mark King and James Burford were co-directors of Compass Aquatics Ltd when they pulled off the £8,494 Royal Mail scam.
Now a judge at Portsmouth Crown Court has spared them jail and handed them suspended prison sentences.
The court heard their business was in difficulty after the mail-order firm went from online-only to opening a shop in Creek Road, Hayling Island.
Michael Orsulik, prosecuting, told how the pair had a subscription for stamps with Royal Mail where they declared postage and paid it.
That account was twice suspended when they owed a balance of £3,500 and then again when they owed more than £14,000.
‘However the defendants continued to use Royal Mail to send items in the post,’ Mr Orsulik said. When investigators discovered the fraud, the pair had used £8,494 worth of postage without paying.
King, 54, Creek Road, Hayling Island, and Burford, 45, of Hill Drive, Fareham, pleaded guilty to obtaining services dishonestly between July and December last year.
Judge Linda Sullivan QC handed them both a four-month prison sentence suspended for two years.
When interviewed, Burford said he was unaware of what went on and King did finances while he did the marketing.
But investigators examined his phone after his December 30 arrest found a text to King that said: ‘Well, they don’t cost us anything :)’
Royal Mail is set to pursue a confiscation order to claw back the cash – but the court heard the pair have little money to pay it back with.
Judge Sullivan said: ‘I view you both as being equally responsible.’
Christopher Hewertson, defending, said King had lost a new job following coverage of the case by The News.
He added: ‘My client is a 54-year-old man of exemplary character. He has been a hard-working man.’
Simon Moger, defending Burford, said: ‘He certainly accepts responsibility for the situation in which he finds himself.
‘He tells me he is left with a number of the company debts... it’s some £24,000 he’s re-paying.’
A Royal Mail spokeswoman said: ‘Royal Mail has a zero-tolerance approach to any dishonesty and Royal Mail will always seek to prosecute the tiny minority of people who abuse their position of trust.’