TWO founders of a fast-moving ball game promoted as a potential Olympic sport have been ordered to repay more than £30,000 of public money after admitting false accounting.

Leeds Crown Court heard Paul Hildreth, 53, who co-created Rock-It-Ball and Craig Buttery, 55, who established the International Rock-It-Ball Federation, had created a string of false invoices after receiving funding from Tees Valley NHS Trust and the Big Lottery Fund.

Buttery, of Ryedale Crescent, Kirkbymoorside, near Pickering, and Hildreth, of Newton-on-Ouse, near York, said they had been striving to develop the five-a-side combat game when they committed the offences.

The game, in which balls are hurled at rival teams, has been promoted as having major health benefits for young people.

The North Yorkshire businessmen, who also volunteer as Rock-it-Ball coaches, have worked to attract a worldwide following since 2006, but sparked a lengthy police investigation after lottery bosses found rules surrounding grants had been broken.

Both Buttery and Hildreth were found to have spent the money on promoting the sport, by buying items such as Rock-Its, the double-ended lacrosse-type stick the game is played with, rather than items specified in their grant applications.

Detective Inspector Ian Wills said neither of the men had profited from making the bogus invoices, but a number of worthy causes could have lost funding as a result.

He said: “It’s public money and other organisations who have to play by the rules had their applications turned down or were not able to bid for the grants.”

Judge Christopher Batty sentenced the pair to 200 hours’ of unpaid community work over 12 months and ordered them to each repay £12,092 to the Big Lottery Fund and £3,094 to the NHS trust.

After the case, Hildreth said he had been baffled by the prosecution as it had been a case of the sport’s governors becoming overstretched.

He said: “We haven’t taken a penny from the sport, we are volunteers. We were very few people trying to be FIFA.”

But Rock-It-Ball co-founder and former town councillor Paul Law, of Romanby, Northallerton, said he had been gobsmacked by the sentence as the pair’s actions had left the sport in tatters.

He said: “This case has destroyed the business and my reputation. After the investigation was launched I spent 18 months on bail for something I didn’t do before I was cleared."

Mr Law said he and another of Rock-It Ball’s founders, Bob Eldridge, now planned to rebuild the sport.

A Big Lottery Fund spokesman said: "We take very seriously any abuse of funding which is for the benefit of communities across the UK. We welcome the outcome of today's prosecution.”