A SENIOR hearing specialist at the Great Western Hospital has admitted selling NHS stock on eBay during work hours - then using hospital franking machines to send off his sales.

Paul Jones, 28, was yesterday given a 16-week suspended sentence and 280 hours' community service by Swindon magistrates after he admitted selling £276 of hearing aid batteries on the internet auction site.

The senior audiologist pocketed around £600 from his sales, which took place between April and June this year. He was told his immediate admission to the theft and fraudulent sales had saved him from being sent to prison.

Jones, of Wellington Street, was caught when a customer who had bought 60 Rayovac batteries noticed the franking mark on the delivery was that of the Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust, magistrates heard.

The NHS fraud reporting team had also received an earlier anonymous tip-off suggesting that Jones, who lost his job as a result of the investigation, was selling work items on eBay.

In addition to one charge of theft by an employee, of 60 batteries, and eight of fraud by false representation, Jones has also admitted a further 59 charges relating to the same matter.

Prosecuting Emma Handslip said: "The nine charges are that in June of this year, the chief executive of the NHS trust received a letter from a Mr Porter with a screen shot from eBay saying he had bought hearing aid batteries from a seller named hearing aid specialist'.

"When Mr Porter received the delivery he was suspicious to see on the packaging a franking stamp displaying Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust.

"As a result an investigation started and the offences came to light."

During the investigation by the NHS counter fraud team it emerged that Jones's £11.99 price tag was a fraction of the true market value of what was on offer, which would usually fetch £98.88.

When arrested, Jones admitted taking the items from the NHS, but believed it had only lost them a few hundred pounds, the Swindon court heard.

Defending Lee Mott said the supplies had been moved from Jones's car - which would have been an acceptable place to keep them given his job - to a cupboard when he moved house a year ago.

"It then struck him that there's a problem if he tries to return it without getting in trouble," Mr Mott said. "Having had success on eBay, that is what triggered the thought to see if anything comes of it."

He added that Jones had lost everything, with all his qualifications relating to audiology, a career he entered eight years ago, and his home being a discounted rental under the national key workers scheme which he will be forced to leave by the end of next week.

"Effectively it's back to square one and looking for a career in another field."

Handing down the sentence, chairman of the bench Mamie Beasant said the fact Jones had abused facilities at work to carry out the sales had added to his crime.

"You were a senior audiologist, and you advertised yourself as hearing specialist' to give credence to your sales," she said.

"Had you not entered a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity you would have been going into custody."