A SALES consultant at a Moray caravan park who fraudulently obtained £53,000 from people who believed they had bought caravans has avoided a jail sentence.
Neale Rothera has instead been sentenced to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work in the community after Elgin Sheriff Court heard he had repaid the money in full.
Rothera (37) did not obtain the money for his own gain, claimed his QC, but it was a misguided attempt to keep the Silver Sands caravan business at Lossiemouth going.
Rothera, of 5 Orchard Way, Wymeswold, Leicestershire made a "gross error of judgement", said QC Shahid Latif, in pretending to seven people that he had caravans for sale which he didn’t own between May 5 and July 2, 2009. He was a self-employed sales consultant at the park at the time.
"His motivation, as instructed by the then employers, was to keep the business viable," Mr Latif told the court.
The owners of Silver Sands at that time, Green Parcs, subsequently collapsed owing millions of pounds and the park is now under new ownership.
Mr Latif added: "The money taken was paid to various contractors to whom money was owed by the business. This money was not received by him and used to fund any lifestyle on his part. If there was any benefit it was to his then employers."
The QC said Rothera demonstrated poor judgement and was genuinely remorseful for his actions.
He has had to cash in a pension plan and take on two jobs to ensure no-one has lost out, he added.
Mr Latif urged Sheriff Susan Raeburn to impose an alternative to custody, although he accepted there must be a penal element to any sentence.
"Community service is not a soft touch and it will be a punishment to him," he claimed.
Sheriff Raeburn said a period of imprisonement would certainly be justified in this case but she was convinced by certain mitigating factors which allowed her to impose community service.
She indicated that two years would not have been an excessive period of custody, however, Rothera’s early plea of guilty would have reduced that to 16 months.
Rothera’s efforts in repaying the entire sum of £53,000 would have reduced the sentence by a further year, leaving a period of six months.
"In my consideration the public interest and your time would be better spent making repatriation to the community in the form of community service," she told him.
She made compensation orders for the financial loss and distress suffered by Rothera’s victims totalling £53,000, money that he has already paid in full to the sheriff clerk’s office.
Rothera declined to comment to the press.
One of Rothera’s victims, who spoke to ‘The Scot’ in August 2009 about her potential loss of more than £17,000, said all she had by way of a receipt was a note on a compliments slip.
"It is gut wrenching," said the woman, who did not want to be named. "The person I dealt with had the gift of the gab, a golden tongue, and could sell ice to the Eskimos.
"I was in a position to pay cash, and car dealers offer discounts when you pay cash, so I didn’t think this was anything different. I was in the office and offered a better deal for paying cash. Now I’ve been made to feel an idiot."
"I spend 11 months of the year here and I just love it, but now we feel totally in limbo," she said at the time.
The woman thought she had bought one caravan to let out and the other for a family member.