THREE men who hatched a plan over rounds of golf to defraud a council by submitting bogus invoices for work which was never done will pay back more than £69,000 from their criminal gains.

Michael Skirving, 51, a former head of Darlington Borough Council's asbestos removal team, encouraged his two businessman friends Martin Dougherty and James Burns to falsely invoice the authority.

Dougherty, the boss of a roofing firm, claimed £75,000 for work he claimed to have done for the council, while company owner Burns fraudulently billed for £33,000 for the hire of a cherry-picker.

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Skirving, of Grange Road, 47-year-old Dougherty, of Westbrooke Avenue and Burns, 45, of Wansbeck Gardens, all addresses in Hartlepool previously given to Teesside Crown Court, were convicted of conspiracy to defraud in 2011 and jailed for 18 months, 12 months and six months respectively.

All three men, who were members of a golfing society, have now been released from jail and appeared at the crown court for a proceeds of crime hearing.

Prosecutor Rosalind Scott Bell said the agreed benefit for Skirving was £54,747. His realisable assets – the amount of money he has available to pay back the money criminally earned – was set at £14,761.

For Dougherty the benefit figure was £37,877 and for Burns £16,870.

Both men were said to have the assets to pay in full.

Dan Cordey, for Dougherty, said the amount he had to pay would involve the sale of his house. Mr Cordey said there was £26,741 sitting in a bank account which had been frozen and subject to a restraining order.

He said Dougherty had now signed a document agreeing that this money could be released forthwith in order to meet the payment required.

Judge Peter Armstrong ordered that the realisable sums be confiscated from the three men, under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

They will have six months to pay and could be jailed for nine months if they default within that period.

Judge Armstrong said the amounts received would be paid by way of compensation to Zurich insurance company, Darlington Borough Council's insurers.

It is understood the council covered the cost of the fraud by claiming from the insurer.

When they were previously sentenced Skirving, Dougherty and Burns were described as extremely hard working and well thought-of, but having been responsible for a systematic fraud against the council.

Councillor Stephen Harker, the council's cabinet member for efficiency and resources, said: "We're pleased that the court has seen fit to ensure money stolen from the public purse will be repaid."

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