FOUR crooked car salesmen involved in a suspected £1m finance fraud walked free from court after a judge heard they pocketed very little from the scam.

The workers from the Acklam Car Centre in Middlesbrough got personal loans for customers by lying about the ages, milages and value of the vehicles they sold.

Teesside Crown Court was told today (Friday, December 20) that in many cases the finance companies involved would not have lent the money had they known the true circumstances.

Judge Howard Crowson heard how the dodgy dealing was "systemic" within the company, but new procedures and training have been implemented in the last two years.

Liam Martin, Robert King, Matthew Hartford and Gregory Ramsey were said to have had no proper tuition about their jobs, Jeremy Barnett, mitigating, said.

Mr Barnett, who represented head salesman Martin, 28, and Hartford, 23, said since changes were made, the company is "ironically" selling even more cars.

"These salesmen were not properly trained to do this job," he said. "They received on-the-job training and there is a hint they did what they thought was right.

"The company is still in business still trading, and working with the finance companies who are now well-aware that there was a systemic problem."

Prosecutor Matthew Bean told the court how Martin made 41 fraudulent claims for finance amounting to £573,000 over the three years he worked at the garage.

Detectives at Cleveland Police spent nearly two years working on the case in which at least £810,000 was lyingly obtained from banks and finance centres.

But they stress the real figure could have been far higher with the charges relating to just 67 deals going back to 2008 at the Acklam Road business.

Each time a deal went through, the salesman would receive commission - and Martin is said to have made £8,000 on top of his basic salary through the scam.

Hartford obtained £65,856 in loans for customers from six sales and picked up an extra £2,000 over the five months he was involved, Mr Bean told the court.

King put through 14 fraudulent applications and got £133,887 credit over 17 months, while Ramsey's two sales over several weeks got £46,253 in loans.

The men were all described as hard-working by Judge Crowson, who passed community orders with unpaid work on them all after saying it was not in the public interest to jail them.

Martin, 28, of Stokesley Road, Middlesbrough, King, of Wheatlands Road, Redcar, Hartford, of Bowesfield Lane, Stockton, and Ramsey, of Lunedale Avenue, Middlesbrough, admitted fraud.

Detective Constable John Graham said: “Our advice to the public is never be pressurised into taking out a loan and always check your paperwork.”

He added that people who had taken out car loans through the car sales centre should seek legal advice.

DC Graham said it was “frustrating” that the garage is still trading with some of the same salesmen. Ramsey has left.