FORMER Cotswold Water Park Society chief executive Dennis Grant, who stole more than £700,000 from the charity, has been released from prison.

Grant, 67, was let out after prosecutors accepted that the luxury villa he bought in Cyprus is “not a realisable asset” which can be sold to contribute towards paying back the £318,949.71 of his ill-gotten gains which he still owes.

When he failed to pay the money by the deadline in February this year, he was sentenced to an extra three-and-a-half years in prison, on top of the original four year sentence for fraud which he had received in July 2011.

Prosecutors were pursuing the sale of Grant’s villa as it would provide the majority of the £318,949.71, however complex property ownership laws in Northern Cyprus have scuppered this.

The laws deem that a property does not legally belong to a buyer until all repair and restoration work has been satisfactorily completed - which has not happened in Grant's case, making the villa unavailable for sale.

As a result, the three-and-a-half year sentence was rescinded at Gloucester Crown Court on Friday, making Grant a free man.

When Grant was sentenced in July 2011, the court heard he had siphoned £707,291.25 of the funds of the Society - which runs the water park near South Cerney - into his own bank accounts.

His transactions went undetected for two-and-a-half years until one of his staff, Tasha Flaherty, realised what was going on and blew the whistle.

Grant, who was living in Banbury at the time, used the stolen money on luxury living including buying fast cars and the Cyprus property.

In court on Friday, prosecutor Edward Hetherington said that, although the Crown accepts that the villa is not a sellable asset, Grant should still pay £5,000 – the value of furnishings, ornaments and other items in the property.

Judge William Hart reduced the available assets figure to £5,000 and ordered that Grant must pay that within six months.

Mr Hetherington pointed out that the figure by which Grant benefited from crime remains the same and if he has realisable assets in the future he can still be pursued for them.

Telling Grant that he could now be released from prison, the judge said he was sorry it had taken so long to resolve the dispute about the realisable value of the villa.

Judge Hart said: "The original assets figure was based on what was then thought to be the valuation of the Cyprus villa. Considerable work has gone into showing that this is effectively valueless, given circumstances which the Crown now accepts are true.

"So what we thought was the position when the order was made has turned out not to be the case.

“Because the amount was not paid by Mr Grant by February, the court required him to begin to serve the lengthy period of prison in default of payment and he has been serving that now for nine months, which is a very considerable punishment to him.

"If other assets become available to him the Crown would have the right to seek to renew their application."