A FORMER couple conned a company out of £70,000 by tampering with fruit machines.

Donna Bolger, of Sinclair Avenue in Longford, played a lesser role in the crime and was involved alongside Craig Carton, of Sheridan Way, Runcorn.

Chester Crown Court heard on Thursday how their remorse, previous good character and pleading guilty plea at the first opportunity went in their favour during sentencing as they escaped jail terms.

Derek Jones, prosecuting, said Carton helped to devise the system used in fruit machines by Runcorn-based gaming company, Play Nation.

These machines were placed mainly in motorway service stations and issue winnings or cash withdrawals via a ticket, which can be redeemed at a terminal.

As a key figure in designing the system, Carton used his ability to edit the value of a £1 ticket and cash out figures of up to £600.

Carton then got his former partner Bolger involved who stole around £6,000 before transferring it to Carton’s bank account.

Over a 10-month period, management noticed ‘discrepancies’ in the system, prompting Carton to come forward and admit his role in the fraud and repay all the money taken.

This money is said to be around £68,000 in total and was funded by loans from family members including Carton’s 69-year-old father, who had to ‘cut short his retirement’ and return to work as a result.

Mr Jones added that Play Nation suffered from 'trust issues' at the time and has lost one client, but cannot conclusively say this was due to Carton and Bolger’s actions.

In defence of Bolger, Hannah Horton stated that a community order would be the best option to serve as both ‘punishment and assistance’.

She said: “My client wants help to improve her thinking skills and to prevent making bad decisions which have got her where she is today.”

Michael Davies, defending Carton, said: “Mr Carton did all the work devising the system and felt aggrieved and disgruntled at not rewarded enough.

“He took on more responsibility which took over his family life, who he planned to use the money to provide for.

“His actions are out of character and he is devastated to be in this position today.”

In sentencing Bolger, Judge Everett said: “I am totally unimpressed with your actions and you should hang your head in shame.

“Had it not been for Carton, you would not have taken part in the crime, but the fact is that you did take part and went into it with eyes open.

“I could send you straight to Styal Prison which is an awful place, but you can still make something of your life.”

Of Carton, Judge Everett added: “You are a sophisticated character and 10 months is a long period of time in which you made a determined effort to get as much money as you could.

“It is not the company’s fault that you did not feel rewarded, as you were paid an agreed salary for the work done.

“You paid the money back to the company but it is not right that you can buy your way out of trouble.

“Despite having thrown away your good character, I do not believe you to be a lost cause but you will be very sorry if we have to meet here again.”

Bolger was handed a community order for two years and 20 Rehabilitation Activity Requirement days, whilst Carton received an 18-month suspended sentence, 20 RAR days and 200 hours unpaid work.

Both were also issued with a surcharge and collection order yet to be determined.