Four businessmen conned the public purse out of thousands of pounds for projects, including one at a Newhaven fish market visited by the Queen.

Michael Burge, 48, created false invoices to supply and install freezers for storing fish and shellfish, which were used to secure government grants over three years.

Ian Bickerstaff, 60, the director of West Quay Fisheries, in Newhaven, and worker David Henman, 65, used these fake quotes to apply for funds.

So did William Brock, 49, a director and company secretary of Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales, in Portslade.

The Maritime Fisheries Agency, now the Marine Management Organisation, approved the grants, given out to support sustainable fishing for the future. But the work was never carried out.

The Queen visited West Quay Fisheries in October 2013 and met Bickerstaff.

The men pleaded guilty to a string of offences on the first day of their trial at Portsmouth Crown Court on Monday, which had been due to last seven weeks.

The court heard Burge helped obtain some £30,000, but he did not keep it – while Brock pocketed more than £28,000.

Judge Iain Pearson said when they were sentenced yesterday: “I appreciate that the considerable time from you four first being questioned to appearing here would have been stressful.

“But you were authors of your own misfortune. All of you are now remorseful and where appropriate offers have been made to refund the money.

“This was a calculated and premeditated series of acts of dishonesty over a period of time.

“You all took advantage of what was a relatively lax system of money giving from a public body and the public purse lost a significant amount.”

Brock, from Botolphs Road, Botolphs, near Steyning, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud. He was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for two years, and was ordered to repay £28,782 and pay £8,000 costs.

His co-defendants admitted two counts of false accounting each.

Burge, from Pitreavie Road, Portsmouth, was given two 10 month prison sentences, suspended for two years and ordered to pay £11,993 costs.

Bickerstaff, Court Farm Road, Newhaven, was given eight months on each count, suspended for two years and told to pay back £14,626.

Henman, of Brighton Road, Newhaven, was handed seven months in prison, for each count, to be served concurrently, and suspended for two years, and a curfew.

Burge, Brock and Bickerstaff were all ordered to carry out 120 hours unpaid work.