AS scams go, it was anything but first class.

This sneaky trio thought they had found a clever way of dodging parking and railway fees – and got away with it for months, saving themselves thousands of pounds.

But their bid to avoid paying to travel in luxury by train between Southampton and London was scuppered when a sharp-eyed officer spotted their fake parking ticket on the dashboard of a car at the station.

The discovery quickly unravelled the full scale of the dishonesty of friends Neil Stantiall, John McInally and Mark Batt, who had collectively dodged costs of more than £2,000 in fees and fares.

The three men – described by a judge as having “an arrogant disregard” for honesty – have now been handed suspended jail terms and fines after admitting conspiring to commit fraud by false representation.

Southampton Crown Court heard how in July last year a rail community officer spotted a fake monthly parking ticket displayed in McInally’s Citroen Xsara, which was parked at Southampton Airport Parkway. The ticket was blank on the back – different to genuine tickets.

Police were called and McInally, who heads up a construction firm responsible for 50 employees, was stopped on his way out of the car park.

A further two monthly tickets, worth £130 each, were recovered, indicating the 46- year-old had parked for the months of May, June and some of July without paying.

When he was searched at the station a fourth fake car parking ticket for April 2010 was found as well as a first class monthly season ticket for train travel to Waterloo worth £849.50.

His phone revealed text messages sent between him and Stantiall, 40, an architect, and Batt, 34, a construction worker which led police to arrest them, the court heard.

Officers raided Batt’s home and found a month’s first class railway ticket.

No tickets were found at Stantiall’s address but the court heard “it was clear from the text that he was responsible for supplying the tickets and he had received at least some money for it”.

They were made by scanning old tickets on to a computer and changing the date.

In mitigation the trio’s defence barristers all told how the men had no previous convictions.

McInally’s barrister, Leah Dillon, said he is a family man who does charity work.

Describing him as “extremely ashamed” she added: “The crass reality is that he saw an opportunity to save some money and he took it.”

Alistair Wright, acting for Stantiall, said it was not a sophisticated fraud but “a lapse of personal morality”.

He added his wife lost her job earlier in the year which placed “significant strain” on the family’s finances.

Batt’s barrister, Robert Bryan, said he was the least involved and added he suffered financial problems after his wife walked out on him leaving him with £20,000 of debt she had racked up on credit cards.

Sentencing them, Judge Susan Evans QC ordered McInally and Batt to pay back the costs, totalling £2,219, as well as £1,500 court costs between all three.

She said they caused “significant loss” to the railway company which leads to increased fares for everyone else.

She said: “This was not just an error of judgement, this was serious dishonesty.

“You are all intelligent individuals with responsible jobs. You have had opportunities in life that many have not been fortunate to have.

“You were all confident you were all too clever to get caught out and you had an arrogant disregard for the basic qualities of honesty and morality.”

Stantiall, of Eliot Close, in Whiteley, who made the tickets, got 16 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, and 250 hours of unpaid work.

McInally, of Underwood Close, Southampton, got 12 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, and 200 hours of unpaid work.

Batt, of Lordswood Close, Southampton, got ten weeks in prison suspended for two years, and 180 hours of unpaid work.

Detective Constable Phil James, of the British Transport Police, said: “Detectives carried out a detailed investigation into the trio and stopped them in their tracks.

“We will continue to work closely with rail companies to ensure that those who seek to make financial gain in this way are brought to justice.

“I hope this strong sentence sends a heavy message that the police and the courts will not tolerate this sort of fraudulent activity.”