A MIDDLE man who scammed his former boss out of £25,000 has been spared immediate jail time – after paying back the cash in just two weeks.

Michael Keeling cried in the dock at Swindon Crown Court as Judge Peter Crabtree told him he would not be going to prison.

The 38-year-old, who has no previous convictions and runs his own construction company, was given 15 months’ imprisonment suspended for two years. He must complete 100 hours of unpaid work and keep an eight-week curfew.

An earlier hearing heard Keeling, from Bampton, Oxfordshire, had acted as a middle man in the sale of Melksham firm Multi Pave.

Then director of the company David Gibbons, also the landlord of the New Inn, Melksham, told Keeling in late 2018 he was considering selling-up. Keeling, who was known to Mr Gibbons through the building trade, said he knew someone who might be interested. That man, Robert Leaney, had also known Keeling for a number of years.

Keeling acted as a middle man between Mr Gibbons and Mr Leaney – who never met while the sale was being negotiated.

Prosecutor Susan Cavender said: “The defendant told Mr Leaney that Mr Gibbons did not want to meet him and described Mr Gibbons as having rather a short fuse.”

Keeling told the seller, Mr Gibbons, that he’d negotiated a price of £21,000 – while the would-be purchaser, Mr Leaney, was told the price was £45,000.

In November and December 2018, Mr Leaney transferred the asked-for sum into bank accounts, including a final £16,000 paid directly to Keeling. Mr Gibbons was given £20,000 – £1,000 less than he had expected.

Ms Cavender said: “By January 2019 the deal had been completed and over the next few months Mr Leaney became more and more suspicious of Keeling’s behaviour.”

In mid-February, Mr Leaney met Mr Gibbons at the latter’s Melksham pub. “Once they got chatting and talked about the purchase price, they realised Mr Gibbons had only received £20,000 for the sale.” Mr Leaney generously paid over the outstanding £1,000 there and then.

They later discovered Mr Gibbons’ signature on the sale agreement had been forged.

Mr Leaney confronted the middleman, who claimed he had paid the full amount. But Keeling’s account changed when he was interviewed by the police in March, when he said he’d kept £16,000 for himself.

Keeling, of Weald, Bampton, pleaded guilty to fraud at an earlier hearing. Mitigating, Emma Handslip told the court that her client had seen an opportunity to take the cash after running into financial difficulties himself.

He was a father-of-five and ran his own construction firm employing 11 people, including his wife and son. His business would be put at significant risk if he were sent to prison, Ms Handslip said.

Since a hearing last month, Keeling had paid £25,000 in compensation to Mr Leaney.

Judge Crabtree acknowledged the defendant was remorseful. He emphasised that Keeling had not bought his way out of prison, but took the fact that he had paid the compensation as evidence of remorse.

“There is a strong argument that only immediate custody should be imposed here. However, imprisonment is not required for protection of the public and probation clearly believe you are a realistic prospect of rehabilitation,” the judge said.

Keeling cried in the dock as the judge said the prison sentence would be suspended. His curfew will not be in force between December 23 and December 27, so he can celebrate Christmas with his family.