A RECEPTION manager at a prestigious hotel in Bradford on Avon plundered thousands of pounds in false credit card refunds.

James Balls siphoned the cash into his own account by pretending that customers at Woolley Grange were unhappy with their stay.

And the 21-year-old was only caught when a dissatisfied customer really complained only for colleagues to find she had already been refunded.

But closer examination of the bank records showed that the money had been stolen by Balls rather than returned to the woman.

Nicola Jennings, prosecuting, told Swindon Crown Court today how Balls started working at the Bradford on Avon hotel in November 2006.

She said he was working in a position of trust as a reception manager where he took payments from guests and had access to money.

Just over six months later the court heard he started to steal from work by making credit card refunds to his own account.

Between June 2007 and March 2008 he defrauded the company out of £6,049.55p by making the payments to himself.

“He was refunding money pretending it was being refunded to customers pretending they were complaining about the quality of the room or food,” she said.

“He was caught out when a customer rang up to complain about her stay. She asked for a refund. It was found she had had a refund to her card which of course she hadn’t.”

Balls was subjected to a disciplinary hearing at work where he admitted what he had done and the matter was referred to the police.

He said he had taken the money to fund his lifestyle buying petrol, cigarettes and cannabis and apologised for what he had done.

Balls, of Portland, Dorset, pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud and asked for thirty further matters to be taken into consideration.

Mike Pulsford, defending, said his client was very sorry for what he had done and had changed his life since the offending.

He is now living rent free at home with his parents and studying for an NVQ in electrical engineering.

Passing sentence Judge Mark Horton said: “You were given a responsible job at a prestigious hotel as a reception manager.

”During the course of performing that task you were guilty of a grotesque breach of trust.”

He ordered Balls do 260 hours of community service, observe a 9pm to 5am curfew for six months and pay £192 costs.

An order under the Proceeds of Crime Act was also made and Balls will have to pay a nominal £50 towards what he stole in two months or face seven days in custody.