A FIFE man has been jailed following a property rental scam which swindled victims out of thousands of pounds.

Edward Laing conned four families out of advance rent and deposits totalling £2,350, a court heard.

Laing advertised the flat at 115 Harburn Drive, West Calder, on the online commerce site Gumtree.

However, he had no right to sublet the property, Livingston Sheriff Court was told.

Some of his prospective tenants only found out on the day they were due to move in that another family had beaten them to it.

Laing, 37, of Back Dykes in Auchtermuchty – who has since changed his surname to Crawford – had denied obtaining the cash through a fraudulent scheme but was convicted after trial.

He was found not guilty of two counts of unlawfully taking deposits totalling £950 from two other people.

The trial was told his first victim handed him a £250 deposit on August 16, 2017.

Laing offered to sublet the same house to a different person three days later on August 19 in exchange for an advance rental payment of £700.

The following day he took £700 from a couple to cover the deposit and advance rent.

And on August 23 he induced a woman to give him a further £700 for deposit and rent.

None of the money has been repaid.

When he appeared for sentence on Friday the court was told that Laing was already serving a community sentence imposed at Dundee Sheriff Court in March.

In an almost identical scam, he defrauded five people out of a total of £2,300 in Dundee between May 16 and June 21 2018.

Craig Scott, defending, said his client appeared to have some sympathy for the people who had lost money.

He said: “His position is that he appreciates they have been swindled, it just wasn’t by him. He is sympathetic to those who have lost out.

“He’s had extreme trauma in childhood which has not been dealt with until now and addressing what has clearly been a horrible childhood for him is important.

“His record is poor but his most recent analogous conviction in 2018 post-dates this and his life turning around coincides with his son staying with him.

“In my submission this is a man who committed these offences in 2017. He must be punished for it but the public interest doesn’t have to be met by him being sent to custody.”

Sheriff Peter Hammond told Laing he had been found guilty of a “substantial and deliberate” fraud involving four complainers who between them had lost £2,350.

He said: “These people gathered to pay deposits and rent for a property which you had no title or right to rent to them.

“In some cases the complainers turned up to find out another family had moved in or was in the process of moving in which must have been of great concern having parted with money in advance. None of them has had any money back.”

The sheriff added: “You were identified by some of the witnesses as receiving certain payments and it was not possible to establish that you were the innocent party, hence your conviction.

“You have a terrible record for offences of dishonesty including theft, fraud and reset, including a previous conviction at sheriff and jury level for reset for which you were sentenced to imprisonment.

“I note you have shown remorse, but you have a serious record for breaching community orders which were imposed as alternatives to custodial sentences.

“For all these reasons I’ve come to the view that the only appropriate disposal is a custodial one.”

He sentenced Laing to nine months in prison.