IT was a set up of which Del Boy and Arthur Daley would have been proud.
Friends Steven Kaye and Nicholas Pulsford offered to provide viewers with satellite channels at a fraction of what it would cost from channels such as Sky or ESPN.
Purporting to be a global network with bases around the world, the operation was in fact run out of a spare room in Kaye’s £330,000 Chandler’s Ford home with a huge satellite dish positioned in the garden, Southampton Crown Court was told.
Such was its size it could be seen on Google Street View as it balanced on top of the shed.
By purchasing a legitimate viewing card from each of the main service providers and using a computer, the pair sold set-top boxes that could decode a signal transmitted from the server through a normal satellite dish, prosecutor James Kellam said.
However, many customers were left disappointed after the boxes, which turned out to be cloned sub-standard devices from a contact in China, were often returned by those who could not get them to work.
The court was told how the pair charged £50 for a threemonth period and at the time they were caught in April 2010 they had just under 1,000 people signed up to the enterprise that they had been running for about two years.
Mr Kellam estimated that Sky would have earned around £1m if all those customers had received their television signal legitimately through them.
Pleading guilty to a charge of possessing an unauthorised decoder, the pair were described as “backdoor entrepreneurs”.
Neither, it was claimed by their defence, earned any more than £10,000 from the operation due to its lack of sophistication and number of returns.
Despite living in a leafy Hampshire suburb Kaye was described as struggling with debt totalling £100,000.
Mitigating, Leah Dillon added: “He has a house with no equity and has three children to pay for. He is not living the lifestyle of the rich.”
Father of two Pulsford, from Hornchurch in Essex, was described as a failed businessman by his counsel, who had bought a house beyond his means with his first wife who he had since divorced.
Sentencing the pair to six months in prison suspended for two years, an order for them both to complete 250 hours of community service and the payment of £1,125 each in costs, Judge Gary Burrell QC described them as running a “ramshackle” business .
He said: “Selling equipment to bypass services that the rest of us have to pay for is in my judgement a very serious offence.”
He added that the fact they were selling substandard equipment could be seen as an aggravating feature of the case.
Officer in the case Det Con Mark Southey said: “I hope this case serves as a deterrent for those who think they can by-pass legitimate ways of receiving goods and services. It should also serve as a warning to those who buy such equipment that they will have little or no redress if and when it goes wrong.”