A fraudster who went on the run to Thailand after swindling customers in East Cornwall and Okehampton has escaped a jail sentence.

Ashley Fordham defrauded five victims in Devon and Cornwall out of almost £20,000 by taking deposits for heat pumps that he failed to supply or refund.

The 61-year-old undischarged bankrupt, who is currently in Norfolk Jail, ripped off victims in 2011 while working for a company that supplied renewable energy. Truro Crown Court heard he told customers that he could offer them a better deal if he supplied the heat pumps rather than going through his employers.

But he made a host of excuses and broken promises for the heat pumps not arriving and prosecutor Paul Grumbar said the deposits he was given went into Fordham’s bank account and were used for living expenses.

Mr Grumbar said:”It was fraud from the outset. In interview he denied being dishonest.”

He said Fordham absconded and lived in Thailand for ten years before returning to the UK where he was arrested and remanded in custody. Miss Sophie Coles, defending, said: “He let people down and wants to make it right.”

Recorder Christopher Quinlan QC said Fordham had swindled five customers and ordered compensation to be paid to two of them who have been located, and that the other three victims will also be compensated if they can be traced.

The victims of the frauds lived in Torpoint and Launceston in Cornwall, and Combe Martin and Okehampton in Devon.

Fordham was given a 15-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months, having spent two months behind bars since his arrest.