An IT expert of Indian origin, who used his skills to purchase goods and services worth thousands of pounds on someone else's credit card, has escaped prison because it would cost authorities more than putting him up in a four-star hotel.
The extraordinary case of Mahendra Patel came up for hearing in the Warwick Crown Court. Patel had racked up hefty bills at a hotel in Lutterworth using his father's credit card. His father was on a visit to India when the expenses were racked up.
Patel, 36, pleaded guilty to eight charges of deception and one of theft. In court, Patel asked for a further 54 offences to be taken into consideration. Judge Richard Bray gave Patel a deferred sentence, giving him six months to pay back all the money.
He said: "It costs more to keep a person in prison these days than it does to stay in a four star hotel—and you know something about four star hotels, I understand. If I find you have made no payments there will be a custodial sentence."
Tammy Mears, prosecuting lawyer, said that in December 2005, Patel, who is originally from Rugby but was living in Coventry, was unemployed and was receiving state benefits. He was living in rented accommodation owned by one Scott.
Mears told the court that while Patel was living in the accommodation, he went through Scott's post and took his new debit card, signing it himself and used it as his own.
When his parents, who live in Rugby, went to India for an extended three-month holiday Patel applied for a number of credit cards in his father's name. He then used them to get cash from ATM machines, to pay for take-away meals, to go shopping, and to stay at a number of hotels in the area.
Mears said that when Patel was arrested he told the police the offences were born out of desperation.
But Judge Bray scoffed at this: "They were not. You don't stay at hotels like the Three Horse Shoes out of desperation."
According to the Rugby Advertiser, a local newspaper, the offences that involved Patel obtaining goods and services totalling 20,000 pounds came to light after his father had returned home and began receiving credit card bills.
Andrew Tucker, defending lawyer, said Patel had "a wealth of skill" in IT and computers, but was unemployed at the time because he had lost part of a finger as a result of surgery, which went wrong after he had injured it while playing cricket.
Tucker added that Patel, who had previously worked for Rugby School in information technology, hoped to begin work in the near future for the BBC in a technical role.
The Judge said he had been considering a suspended prison sentence, but told Tucker: "A deferred sentence would give him six months to pay it back, and if he does not he goes to prison."
"What I am not putting up with is him coming back in six months with a tale of woe about how bad his finger is. I am not sure whether he is a tricky fraudster who does not tell the truth, or someone who has made a mistake".