A COUPLE at the centre of a £100,000 newspaper rip-off scam have walked free from court – and were ordered to pay back just £1.
Susan and Brian Johnson pocketed almost £50,000 profit in a fraud targeting eight national and regional titles across the UK.
The pair, of Lawrence Avenue, South Shields, used the cash for holidays and to pay for their wedding in 2012.
But Newcastle Crown Court heard the couple now have no assets and were ordered to pay back £1.
Mr Recorder Gargan told the pair: “These offences were repeated, they showed remarkable persistence in exploiting what you saw as a route to easy money.”
But the judge suspended the couple’s 12- month jail terms for two years to enable them to continue to care for their young children.
The crooked couple had used a series of false identities to subscribe to schemes which entitle readers to books of vouchers to buy newspapers at a discounted rate.
But, once they received the vouchers, the direct debits in place to pay for the books were cancelled.
The voucher books were sold on in exchange for cash.
The buyers included newsagents in another part of the country, who were able to claim refunds from the newspaper companies towards newspapers they had never actually sold.
Susan Johnson, 41, and Brian Johnson, 31, both admitted eight charges of fraud and one of converting criminal property.
Michael Bunch, prosecuting, told the court at a previous hearing there were 1,500 applications for schemes run by the Guardian, Times, Independent, Financial Times, Daily Mail, Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News and the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Bunch said: “It was the ordering of vouchers to pay for newspapers using the scheme operated whereby it was possible to subscribe to the newspaper and you receive a booklet of vouchers, though that would be sent in advance of any money received.
“The vouchers would be received and there would be no payment forthcoming and the booklets would be sold on.
“A direct debit mandate was included in the application but the direct debit was able to be cancelled.”
The court heard the scam came to light when staff at the Guardian and Financial Times realised a number of direct debits were being returned and many seemed to be from the South Shields area and from a small number of bank accounts.
Police launched an investigation and the couple admitted wrongdoing but claimed they had made only a few hundred pounds for themselves.
But Mr Bunch added: “Further investigation was carried out and showed rather than the two to three hundred pounds which each claimed to have made, a bank account belonging to the defendants had received deposits totalling £48,698.”
The court heard the total loss to the newspaper industry was between £96,000 and £97,000.
John Wilkinson, defending Mrs Johnson, said the scam started in 2009 when there was a lot of personal turmoil going on with the couple and the cash was used to keep the family afloat.
He said: “It spiralled out of control.”
Graeme Cook, defending the husband, said: “There was holidays and they were married in June 2012.
“There were no lavish cars, nothing of that sort whatsoever.”