A crooked plumber has been fined £8,000 for ripping off nuns who he saw as a soft touch after fixing the central heating system at their convent.

Gary Henry had just come out of jail for previous frauds when he sent a bogus bill to the Sisters of Poor Clares, a closed order who live a life of prayer and poverty at their monastry in Lynton.

Henry carried out the work at the Monastry of Poor Clares five years before he was jailed in 2015, but sent the inflated invoice within months of being released less than half way through his two year sentence.

It was for £10,239.76, which inflated how many hours he spent on the job, charged them at an exorbitant rate, and claimed for more copper pipe than he used. He even overcharged for VAT.

Father Keiran Kirby, who handles the nuns’ finances, was suspicious because he could not remember accepting a quote for anything like the £10,291.76 that Henry charged.

He knew the invoice was fraudulent because he could only authorise expenditure of greater than £5,000 and contacted the Devon Trading Standards.

Alec Small, prosecuting, said Trading Standards inspected the work, which was shoddy, and found Henry had charged for 60 metres of copper pipe when he had only used 33 and had 20 per cent VAT when the rate in 2010 was 17.5.

Mr Small said a separate complaint was received in 2017 from a pensioner in Bishops Nympton who paid £1,894.86 to have a shower unit added to her bathroom.

It left her with a shower that did not work and potentially dangerous drinking water.

Henry, aged 57, of Anstey Way, Instow, admitted fraud and two counts of contravening the requirements of professional diligence.

He was jailed for eight months, suspended for 18 months, fined £8,000 with £6,500 costs and £1,362 compensation by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court.

Judge Evans told him: “It may be you chose the church because you thought they were a soft touch. These offences were flagrant and carried out while you were under prison licence.

“I am told you are a changed man but I am not convinced you have had some sort of Road to Damascus conversion.”

Nicolas Gerasimidis, defending, said Henry had been under great financial pressure because he faced a Proceeds of Crime investigation in which the prosecution sought £1.8million, before reducing the figure to settle for £90,000.

He said Henry has given up plumbing altogether and is selling two properties which he owns so he can sort out his finances and repay a £100,000 tax bill.

Lynton Monastery lies in the countryside near Lee Bay, and was founded by Sisters of the Poor Clare in 1904. It is known as a monastery rather than a nunnery, despite being home to a female order.

The Poor Clares, also known as The Order of St Clare, were founded in 1212 by St Clare of Assisi, who was a follower of St Francis. The order is dedicated to a life of poverty and prayer.