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20 December 2010, 11:37 | Updated: 20 December 2010, 11:51
A former police officer was spared an immediate jail sentence today for dishonestly trying to claim £3,500 after reading on a force computer that a cash-filled bag had been handed in by a member of the public.
Sergeant Peter Yeats, who resigned from Sussex Police after he was arrested, rang the force after spotting the entry on an incident log in July.
Using the false name of Kirk Rose, the 32-year-old told officers his wife had dropped the cash the day before on a bridleway.
But his colleagues became suspicious because the poor state of the money suggested it had lain undiscovered in the open for longer than a day.
Their suspicion was also aroused when they called a landline number they had found for a Kirk Rose, but when he answered he said he had no knowledge of the money.
The calls were eventually traced back to Yeats's police-issue mobile phone.
Sentencing him to three months imprisonment, suspended for a year, Recorder Christine Laing QC said: ``In my view what you were doing was in a gross breach of trust that the public must put into police officers.
``Clearly, to say this was a complete moment of madness is fairly underestimating the situation.''
Lewes Crown Court heard that Yeats was on duty as a neighbourhood response sergeant at Hastings police station when he read on an incident log that the money had been found by a member of the public in a bag next to a footpath near Plumpton Racecourse.
He called his force three times pretending to be Mr Rose from Cornwall but when officers called the real Mr Rose he told them he had no idea what they were talking about.
Yeats was arrested in September when the calls were traced back to his police-issue mobile phone and further investigations found that he had researched bridleways around Plumpton Racecourse and Cornish holiday cottages on his police computer.
During questioning he denied he had made the calls and claimed that he had looked the information up purely out of interest after seeing the incident on the log.
Julian Dale, defending Yeats, told the court that he had been under significant financial pressure after he and his wife had their first child just over a year ago.
They could not afford childcare so the couple were juggling their full-time jobs with looking after the boy and were struggling to cope.
Mr Dale said: ``He's brought shame on himself, he has brought shame on the oath he took on joining the police service five years ago, and both he and his family have suffered considerably.''
Ms Laing said she had taken psychiatric reports that showed Yeats had suffered from depression into account when passing sentence, and that he had no previous convictions or cautions and was of good character.
She also recognised he had pleaded guilty to the charge of fraud by false representation under the Fraud Act 2006 at the first available opportunity, when he appeared at Brighton Magistrates' Court last month.
Yeats, of Celandine Drive, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, was also ordered to carry out 60 hours unpaid work.
The court heard no-one rightfully claimed the cash, so it was given to the member of the public who found it.
Chief Inspector Bruce Mathews, of the force's professional standards department, said: ``Peter Yeats's actions went against the high standards expected of a Sussex Police officer.
``The people of Sussex should be reassured that we remain committed to investigating any circumstances of dishonesty.''