A Barnstaple ice cream executive who swindled £127,000 with bogus invoices has been told to repay the lolly or be sent to the cooler.

Mark Scott used his position as regional business manager to sign off 58 fraudulent invoices which were paid to him and three friends who split the profits with him, Exeter Crown Court has heard.

He worked for Europe's second biggest ice cream maker Froneri, whose brands include Cadbury's 99 Flake, Lyons Maid, Toblerone and Kelly's Cornish.

He was allowed to authorise payments of up to £5,000 and used this facility to divert cash to fellow fraudsters David Gardner, Jonathan Ranson, and Sanjay Amlani.

He was caught because he also abused a voucher scheme which was intended to reward loyal customers. An aggrieved client sent an anonymous complaint to head office because he diverted £14,000 from the scheme.

Scott, aged 40, of Middle Combe Drive, Barnstaple, admitted four counts of fraud and his sentence was deferred to allow him time to prepare a repayment schedule.

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 David Evans

The court heard how Scott was already on £45,000 a year and spent the extra money buying a better home in Barnstaple and looking after his family. The others spent it on holidays or paying off debts.

Gardner and Ranson had worked with Scott at another firm while Amlani knew him because he ran his own ice cream business in London.

Judge Evans told them: “You all made repeated, deliberate and dishonest choices which you all made out of your greed for easy money. It maybe that because the loser was a large company, you thought you could get away with it.

“None of you showed any sign of stopping voluntarily until the wrongdoing was exposed. You were a bunch of dishonest crooks.”

The judge set a timetable under the Proceeds of Crime Act but told Scott he would go to jail unless he is able to find ways of repaying a large part of the money before the next hearing.

Mary McCarthy, prosecuting, said Scott was the South West regional sales manager for R&R ice cream and its parent company Froneri and stole the money over three years before being caught in April last year.

He stole £127,000 through authorising 58 false invoices and £14,000 through diverting vouchers and split the profits 50/50 with his three friends.

Gardner's invoices totalled £33,193, Ranson's £26,283, and Amlani's £12,485. The remaining payments were paid directly to himself.

Emma Smith, for Scott, said he was suffering from suicidal thoughts when he started stealing the money and wanted to provide for his family after his death.

Kevin Hopper, for Gardner, said his motivation was to enable his wife, who had recently had a hip operation, to give up work.

Claire Fraser and Puneet Gruwal, for Ranson and Amlani said their involvement was less than the others and they hoped to be able to repay the money.

Neither had been in trouble before and both regret their involvement.