THE former chief executive of the Cotswold Water Park Society who was sentenced to more than four years imprisonment for large-scale fraud was described as a broken man who bitterly regretted his actions.

Dennis Grant, 63, of Old Glebe, Upper Tadmarton, Banbury, appeared at Gloucester Crown Court on yesterday and was sentenced to four years and four months imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to pocketing nearly £700,000 meant for the benefit of the CWPS.

The court heard how Grant said committing fraud was like a "fairground ride he could not get off" and how he splashed out on cars, houses and personal items with the money he gained.

Mary Harley, prosecutor, said the CWPS had suffered nearly £2million of losses because of Grant’s criminal activities.

She said: "In addition to the quantifiable losses the organisation had suffered and continues to suffer loss of faith, respect and trust from local communities, official partners and landowners.

"It has been unable through lack of funds to meet its commitments and to achieve on the ground action to improve the environment within the Water Park area.

‘Members of staff have suffered considerable uncertainty as to receipt of wages and continuing employment."

Between 20-30 June 2007 he pocketed £100,000 by giving Withy King solicitors his own bank details instead of CWPS details. The money was part payment of a contract between Kilbridges and the CWPS.

Between January 21 and 17 March 2007 he had £25,000 put into his own private account when the money from Mayo’s Famous For Food Ltd was meant for CWPS.

On 21 December 2007 he transferred £170,833.33 into his own account relating to a deal between Watermark Group Ltd and CWPS. A further £58,333.30 from Watermark was transferred into Grant’s personal account between 20 December 2007 and 11 March 2009.

On 22 July 2008 he denied CWPS £299,124.62 by transferring the money, paid by the Co-Op, into his own personal account.

Between 8-14 November 2006 Grant falsely claimed he was entitled to a £7,500 rental payment from Mayo’s Famous For Food Ltd, an amount rightfully meant for CWPS.

Mrs Harley added: "Grant used his position of authority and control, particularly over funds, to facilitate his offending. Within months of his appointment he began diverting funds desperately needed by the society into his personal account."

The downfall of Grant came thanks to the detective work of Tasha Flaherty, operational director of the CWPT. It was she who discovered £100,000 of the Kilbridge money had been put into a Natwest bank account in Banbury, of which Grant was the sole signatory. It was an account nobody at the Society was aware of.

The court heard how he used the money to buy a villa in Northern Cyprus, house in Banbury, an Aston Martin, Mini Cooper, Nissan Pagero and a flat for his daughter.

Peter Woodall, defending Grant, told the court: "It is not to decry the impact of this offence on the victim but I submit to the court that the effects of his criminal behaviour on him has been nothing less than catastrophic.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that he stands before you a broken man. He stands before you today as one who has lost his marriage, his home and his good name.

"When he leaves prison he faces a future of uncertainty.

"It may be said he is master of his own misfortune and has thrown away all he has achieved in his life. This is an extremely serious case, it is the exploitation of a position of trust."

However, Mr Woodall said although this was "appalling conduct" there were a number of mitigating factors including his early guilt plea, cooperation with the police, his age, his remorse and his previous good character.

"It took some degree of courage for this man to admit responsibility from the outset," he added.

"It is difficult to emphasise how out of character this was. His remorse is heartfelt and genuine. It is not merely shown by the plea but has been expressed openly. He bitterly regrets his actions.

"He has brought shame on himself, his family, let down those who regarded him highly and breached the trust of those who trusted him.

"There came a point with these vast amounts of money being channelled into accounts where he released he was doomed to discovery and he could never pay back the large amounts of money he had stolen.

"He approaches the inevitable prison sentence with great trepidation. He is determined to atone for what he has done in every way he can."

At the initial police interview after he was arrested, Grant told police his motive was dominated by need.

He then said it became "stupidity" and "greed" and that he became trapped by his own dishonesty.

At interview Grant said: ‘You get caught in a whirlpool. It is like a fairground ride, you can’t get off."

Jailing him, Judge William Hart told Grant he exploited his position of trust within the organisation and caused the society to suffer a "dramatic loss" of money which had a devastating effect.

"It is I am sure embarassing in the extreme to hear Mary Harley mention some of the things on which the money was spent.

"This was not a case of somebody in desperate need trying to keep themselves or their company afloat."

He said he suspected Grant wanted to give people the impression that he was "something better" than what he was.

He added that several character references had said Grant was an honest man who they would never have suspected of fraud.

‘They still respect you as a man and stand by you and continue to support you," he said.

He added: "The higher you start the further you fall and you started high and have fallen as low as anyone could.

"You are in financial ruin. Whatever assets you have will be taken from you in the Proceeds of Crime act proceedings and you will be left in penury. That is your doing More than that, your personal life has collapsed around you as a result of what you have done."