A PUB landlord and his wife pocketed almost £1,000 cash raised by customers to help save sick and premature babies, a court heard.

Ricky and Tracey Bastable were snapped by local press photographers handing over a large "dummy" cheque for Burnley's special care baby unit - but the hospital never saw a penny of it, despite repeated efforts by an officer to get the couple to hand over the money, Burnley magistrates were told.

The Bastables, 33 and 28 respectively, and now of Smith Street, Nelson, both admitted theft of a total of £850 from Burnley Health Care NHS Trust.

Each was given 150 hours community service and told to pay £425 compensation and £30 costs.

Neil White, prosecuting, said last July Bastable was landlord of the Rifle Volunteers, Burnley, and phoned saying he wanted to raise cash for the unit by charity events.

In August, he contacted an official claiming £850 was ready to be handed over and a large cheque to the tune of £1,000 was "presented" for the benefit of press photographers. Bastable said that although £850 had been raised, he would make it up to £1,000. Despite phone calls, letters and visits to the pub by the official, the money never materialised and the matter was passed to the trust's legal services department.

The couple then became managers of the Victoria Hotel, Gisburn Road, Barrowford, but letters sent there went unanswered.

At the end of November, Mrs Bastable claimed there had been a terrible mistake which needed sorting out.

She blamed the bank saying it had paid a brewery bill instead of the health care trust.

The official gave the couple a week's grace but then had no alternative but to report the matter to police.

Basil Dearing, defending, said the couple had been struggling and not able to make a go of their venture into pub management.

The fund raising project started as well meaning and well intentioned. The Bastables had robbed Peter to pay Paul. Creditors were pressing and bailiffs at the door and the couple foolishly reached for money "sitting there" which they should not have been touching.

The Bastables were now out of the licensed trade and could end up bankrupt. Of the people they owed money to, they took the view the £850 should be at the top of the list.

Mr Dearing said the couple would never run a pub again.

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