A STOURPORT conman who charged a vulnerable Black Country pensioner £2,200 for gardening work he carried out on his home with two other men has avoided a spell behind bars.

The 67-year-old victim who was registered disabled handed over the cash to Luke Bridges who had spent less than two hours trimming trees and hedges and cutting grass at the Darlaston property.

Bridges, aged 23, had gambling debts, had fallen into the clutches of loan sharks and he had serious financial difficulties, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.

Recorder Anthony Edis QC told Bridges it was clear he had "preyed" on the victim - a man with mental problems who lived alone.

It was serious offending, he ruled, because the pensioner had been exploited and his trust had been abused by Bridges of Sandy Lane, Stourport.

But he said he was just able to avoid imposing an immediate prison sentence because Bridges was a man with no previous convictions despite the fact he had "deliberately targeted" the pensioner.

The Recorder told Bridges: "Your explanation is that you had gambled away a lot of money and you had fallen into the hands of loan sharks. This pensioner suffered significant financial hardship."

Bridges admitted fraud by false representation and he was given a 10 month jail term suspended for 18 months and ordered to carry out 100 hours unpaid work in the community.

Alison Downs, defending Bridges, who was further told he must pay the pensioner £2,200 compensation, said he saw the offence as an opportunity to ease his money troubles.

He was full of genuine remorse for his actions, she told the court, and it was his wish pay all the money back to the victim.

Richard McConnaghy, prosecuting, said Bridges had carried out gardening work for the pensioner earlier but he later returned to the house.

When the pensioner explained he had no money available he was told "Then you had better go to the bank then" and he went to withdraw the £2,200.

The pensioner later went back to the bank to withdraw more cash and when a cashier "smelled a rat," added the Recorder, the police were notified and Bridges was arrested.