A post office boss fiddled his books by more than £50,000 to try and keep his struggling business alive.

Sami Sabet pocketed the cash after a row with Royal Mail who he claimed owed him the money.

Yesterday the 53-year-old, who stole from his two post offices in Shoreham and Portslade, admitted two charges of fraud.

Judge Charles Kemp, who handed Sabet a suspended custodial sentence, claimed the sub-postmaster had committed a “grave breach of trust”.

Lewes Crown Court was told that the father-of-one, of Beach Green, Shoreham, was discovered when suspicious auditors carried out an investigation.

Adrian Chaplin, prosecuting, said that when auditors checked the accounts in March last year they found £26,927 missing from the post office in East Beach, Shoreham, and £23,821 missing at the post office in Mill Lane, Portslade.

The money was later found "hidden" in Sabet’s accounts system.

When he was interviewed, Sabet said he committed the offences following a dispute with the Royal Mail over money he felt was owed to him.

He said: "The picture emerges that he took the decision, in order to keep his businesses alive, to take money from the Post Office. He maintained it was always his intention to pay it back."

Mr Chapin said when Sabet was asked why he had not take out a loan, he replied that he would have had to pay interest.

Sabet, who committed the offences between December 2007 and March 2008, has since paid all of the money back.

John Marsden-Lynch, defending, said the married father formerly worked as a hospital administrator and for businesses in the UK, US and other countries before deciding to open the post offices.

He said: "He still owns the properties but there are considerable difficulties in selling them.

"He deeply regrets his actions but at no time did he ever intend not to repay the money. It is not a case where there has been an extravagant lifestyle."

Judge Kemp sentenced Sabet to one year in jail suspended for two years and was ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work in the community.

He must also pay £1,000 costs.

He told him: "It is a real tragedy that a man of your years, undoubted abilities and intelligence, should now stand convicted of offences of dishonesty. You have lost your good character in spectacular fashion.

"It is public money and this was a grave breach of trust."