An ice cream executive who swindled £127,000 from his employers by paying false invoices has been spared a jail sentence after repaying a large part of the money.

Mark Scott was the South West regional manager of Europe's second largest ice cream maker Froneri but abused his position to divert money to his own account and those of three friends.

He was trusted to sign off payments of up to £5,000 and used this facility to pay 58 fraudulent invoices over three years.

Scott drew former work colleagues or business contacts David Gardner, Jonathan Ranson, and Sanjay Amlani into the scheme, using their accounts to hide the thefts.

He siphoned off roughly half the money through his three friends and they kept half before paying him his share in cash.

He worked for Froneri, also known as R&R, which owns a network of brands across Europe. The best known ones in Britain are Cadbury's 99 Flake, Lyons Maid, Toblerone and Kelly's Cornish.

Scott, aged 40, of Middle Combe Drive, Barnstaple, admitted four counts of fraud and was jailed for two years, suspended for two years, by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court.

The judge said he was suspending the sentence because he did not want Scott's children to suffer through him being sent to jail.

He said he was also impressed by his remorse and the fact that he has already repaid £48,000 of the stolen money, with around £9,000 in another account to follow when it is unfrozen.

He told him: “What you did was extremely serious and very dishonest. You kept being dishonest time and time again.

“One of the most significant features in mitigation is the transfer of £48,000 to the company. That does not buy the suspension of this sentence but it is a factor I cannot ignore.”

Scott got away with the fiddle for three years without the company spotting the bogus invoices but was caught because he started abusing a voucher scheme for loyal customers.

An aggrieved client sent an anonymous complaint to head office because he diverted £14,000 from the scheme.

The other defendants, David Gardner, aged 60, of Folly Court, Bovey Tracey; Jonathan Ranson, aged 35, of Larch Drive, Barrow-upon-Soar, Leicestershire; and Sanjay Amlani, aged 55, of Wessex Drive, Pinner, all admitted one count of fraud.

They were jailed for 14, 12, and four months respectively, all suspended for 18 or 12 months, and ordered to do between 120 and 240 hours of unpaid work by Judge Evans.

At a hearing earlier this week he told them: “You all made repeated, deliberate and dishonest choices which you all made out of your greed for easy money. You were a bunch of dishonest crooks.”