A COMPANY boss who masterminded a £440,000 fraud to keep afloat his failing business has been jailed.

Peter John Robinson, 68, was imprisoned for two years and eight months for what a judge called a persistent confidence trick which required “a considerable degree of planning”.

Robinson’s barrister argued that his client should be spared prison because he immediately confessed to the crimes and had resorted to them only to rescue his ailing business.

Ian West, mitigating, told Teesside Crown Court that Robinson was “an otherwise stout citizen” and had “robbed Peter to pay Paul” during the recession.

Robinson’s North Yorkshire-based company, RHM Tank Sales, based in Marton-cum-Grafton, near Boroughbridge, had suffered a slump in orders and his “over-optimistic thinking” led him to believe he could ride out the dip.

Robinson sold tankers and trailers he did not own or that did not exist, got further loans for vehicles he already had on finance and forged his partner’s signature.

David Brooke, prosecuting, told the court that the business had done well until 2006 when Robinson began his crimes.

When he was arrested in August last year, the trader told police he should have closed it, but made what he described as “an amateurish attempt” to keep it running.

Mr West told the court: “It was not about greed. There are no houses in Marbella. He lived in a modest house in North Yorkshire at the time he ran this business.”

Married Robinson, now of Norwich Close, Great Lumley, Chester-le-Street, County Durham, admitted 13 charges of fraud, theft and obtaining property by deception.

Mr West said Robinson cashed in his pension and sold his house in Knaresborough to pay some of the companies he owed money to.

“That is the nature of the man,” said the barrister. “He continues to work. He doesn’t have to do that, but he does because he feels obliged to those people he has let down.

“Mr Robinson is nearly 69 years of age and since he left school at 16 has been in gainful employment in this business, making an honest living from a hard day’s work.

“He’s the epitome of the hard-working Englishman. He would have been at retirement age [when the fraud started] and he could have just folded the business but he didn’t.”

Robinson’s business partner was also arrested but was released without charge.