THE boss of a Southampton lettings firm has been jailed after defrauding landlords and tenants out of more than £230,000.

Fraudster Andrew Whitehead did not pass on rent to landlords and also failed to return deposits to tenants.

The 45-year-old then used his ill-gotten gains to cover his own business and personal expenditure.

But his fraudulent activity was discovered by trading standards chiefs, who found Whitehead had fraudulently pocketed more than £230,000 in four years.

Appearing at Southampton Crown Court, Whitehead, of Highcrown Mews, Highfield, was jailed for two years.

The court heard how Whitehead was sole director of The Flat Agency and Michael Brown’s Ltd, Property Vibe Ltd and TFAMB.COM Ltd, all trading in Southampton between April 2013 and February 2017.

In order to remain a member or join industry trade associations and a tenancy deposit scheme, Mr Whitehead forged a bank statement, which he then used to give the impression his client’s deposits were ring fenced when in fact they were not.

This allowed Mr Whitehead to continue trading while taking significant sums of money from tenants.

The court heard he treated these funds as his own, making significant cash withdrawals and payments towards vehicle finance, mortgages and loans.

When complaints made by tenants and landlords to The Property Ombudsman were upheld, the Ombudsman’s awards and compensation were unpaid, Whithead’s firms were later expelled from The Property Ombudsman’s redress scheme.

Whitehead pleaded guilty to three counts of fraudulently trading, one count of forging a bank statement and four counts of using forged bank statements, following an extensive investigation by Southampton City Council’s Trading Standards Service, assisted by Trading Standards Regional Investigation Team.

Councillor Jacqui Rayment, Cabinet Member for Place and Transport said Whitehead’s actions showed “complete disregard for the financial wellbeing of both his landlords and tenants”.

She added: “This conviction will hopefully give some moral satisfaction to the victims of Mr Whitehead.”