A LETTING agency director who stole hundreds of thousands of pounds from his customers, spending the money on holidays and shopping, has been spared a prison sentence.

Clifford Wheatcroft, the former owner and director of Real-Est8 Property Solutions, used the cash to fund a "lavish lifestyle", investigators say. The 33-year-old has now been sentenced to 17 months in prison suspended for two years after admitting eight counts of theft.

Real-Est8 launched in 2009. It was based in Wimborne Road, Moordown.

The company was responsible for offering a 'middleman' service to landlords, which included finding tenants and collecting deposits and rent.

Tenants' money was then in turn meant to be passed onto the landlords. The landlords were charged a fixed fee of £50 per month per property for the service.

In December 2013, Wheatcroft, who owns a detached house in Sidney Gardens, Muscliff, was declared bankrupt. It was discovered that he had not placed the tenants' deposits in the secure government tenancy deposit protection scheme.

Several landlords also found that they were owed several months'-worth of rent.

When Wheatcroft was interviewed by police, he told officers he first got into financial difficulty during 2012. Things got worse in 2013 when Wheatcroft lost a big client, he said.

He then started to use the deposits and rents to keep up with other payments.

Financial enquiries showed Wheatcroft spent a considerable amount of money from the company account on personal items including holidays, leisure activities, shopping and meals out to the tune of £357,260.08.

In December 2013, the Daily Echo reported that tenants, landlords and maintenance men were left out of pocket after the closure.

A sign went up in the window of the branch stating that the business had ceased trading. Those affected by the closure gathered outside hoping their rent money, deposits and pay would be handed over.

Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings are due to take place in the coming months.

Wheatcroft must also carry out 250 hours of unpaid work in the community.

Detective Constable Mandy Brimicombe, of Dorset Police, said: "As with these types of financial investigations where there are a number of victims, the case was lengthy and complex.

"Wheatcroft used his position to fund his lavish lifestyle, with many victims losing thousands of pounds.

"I hope this sentence shows that we take such allegations extremely seriously and will bring offenders to justice.”

  • This article has been edited to clarify the sentence given to Clifford Wheatcroft. Information previously printed was sent by Dorset Police and has now been corrected by the force.