Over a period of nearly a year Lieutenant Mark Vickers, 55, illicitly took the cash – and plotted to take a further £25,000.
Between June 2017 and April 2018, Vickers deceived his superiors and falsified documents for financial gain, and was told by a judge that he had ‘betrayed’ the armed forces.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard how Vickers claimed the £71,000 when he was deployed in the Royal Navy Reserve to Bahrain – but was made redundant by his civilian employer after one month at sea.
The Royal Navy pays reservists for their services on deployment, plus compensation for missing out on their usual employment.
After this, Vickers attempted to claim an ‘employment bonus’ of £25,000 from the navy, using forged documents.
This bonus was, in reality, his redundancy money, and an investigation by the navy uncovered his actions.
Prosecuting, Rob Griffiths said: ‘This was an abuse of his position, and there was an element of planning since a letter was produced.
‘It wasn't a very sophisticated fraud.’
The judge, Recorder Richard Shepherd, told Vickers he had been thinking of sending him straight to prison, saying he had ‘brought shame’ on both himself and the uniform he has worn for 17 years.
But support from the navy, coupled with severe mental health complications, made the judge rethink that move.
Sentencing, judge Shepherd said: ‘Your frauds were committed in various ways, but in essence you lied, cheated and created false documents to cheat the Royal Navy out of money.
‘The navy should have been able to trust you, but you betrayed them.
‘But I absolutely accept that your remorse is genuine, and that you have been badly affected psychologically – to the point where you have made genuine attempts to take your own life.’
Vickers, standing wide-eyed in the dock as he was addressed by the judge, received a 20-month custodial sentence, suspended for two years.
He must also complete 200 hours of unpaid work.
Vickers, from Tallis Street, London, has already repaid the navy for the money he took, the court heard.
Former naval officer Mike Critchley was appalled at the crime.
The retired Lieutenant Commander from Gosport told The News: ‘This is an extremely serious offence.’
‘By no means is the navy a perfect organisation but it does employ some extremely good people.
‘However, that doesn't mean there aren't occasional apples that are picked that are rotten. That is exactly what this guy was – rotten.’
Mr Critchley added: ‘You just wonder how it had gone on for so long, for the best part of a year.’
Vickers’ mental health has deteriorated and legal proceedings have put a strain on relationships with his youngest and eldest sons, the court heard.
In court John Townsend, mitigating, said: ‘This is a man of good character.
‘(He has) a distinguished career as a reservist but also as a former solicitor.
‘All of that is obliterated by this conviction.’
The court also heard a witness statement from Lieutenant Commander James Browning, who said Vickers is a ‘solid and valued’ reservist.
He added that while the navy reserves the right to discipline him further, the navy is already short-staffed as it is.
Vickers admitted two counts of fraud.