A council worker gave out overly expensive contracts to one of his roofer friends in exchange for bribes.

Former New Forest District Council worker Richard Cullen and his friend, roofing boss Mark Diaper, were jailed at Southampton Crown Court on Thursday for their role in the fraud, which saw 118 contracts handed out.

Cullen still carried on giving the contracts to Diaper after being suspended for falling asleep at his desk - and told his accomplice he would pretend to be mentally ill when his crimes came to light.

Salisbury Journal: Mark Diaper outside Southampton Crown Court. Picture: Solent News AgencyThe court heard how Cullen, 55, was working at the council as a maintenance operative officer when in 2018, he began dishing out contracts to Diaper's company, All Type Roofing. 

Whilst paying over the odds for the work, Cullen was also taking 10 per cent of the profits for himself for facilitating the scheme.

According to the judge, in total, he made £37,000 in bribes, whilst Diaper, 34, received £125,000 from the £233,000 worth of fraudulent contracts that were given out. 

The deceit was only discovered in 2019 when the council noticed a spike in the amount of money paid out by Cullen's department from one financial year, when it was £285,000, to the next, which was £700,000.

An investigation was launched by the authority which resulted in the pair being arrested. 

Diaper told police in an interview that any money passing between them was a personal matter. 

But despite this, both pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery on the day their trial was set to begin.

The offences began in September of 2018. 

In total, 118 invoices were sent to All Type Roofing, with Cullen continuing to send out contracts despite having been suspended for falling asleep at his work desk. 

Speaking at their sentencing hearing, prosecutor Denis Barry said there were "repeated messages" from Cullen saying they "should not be greedy", adding that he would pretend he was mentally ill when it was investigated.

He said the offences had caused the "Undermining of the proper function of government" adding: "It wasn’t a one-off deception for one piece of business. It was a corrupt relationship over a long period of time."

But mitigating for Diaper, Peter Asteris said his client had a cocaine and gambling addiction at the time of the offences and was in debt for thousands of pounds. 

He said he had a "particularly traumatic childhood" with his grandmother becoming the most important person in his life before she died. 

"[He has a] very significant level of remorse and regret at his actions."

Cullen's barrister, Alex Kettle-Williams, added that there had been a long delay in the pair being sentenced in this case and that her client "presents today as a very different individual than the man who came to court in January of last year."

Cullen, of International Way, Southampton was jailed for five years. 

Diaper, of Francis Street, Luton was sentenced to 32 months in prison. 

Judge Peter Henry said: "This was a criminal enterprise that required considerable planning and organisation to put into effect.

"This was an abuse of a position of trust by you Richard Cullen.

"[You had a] responsibility to ensure that the taxpayers of the New Forest, their money was properly accounted for.

"The taxpayer or ratepayer has been defrauded and a cash-strapped local authority deprived of resources."