A BODMIN postman's theft of cash and vouchers from postal packets "struck at the very heart of society", a deputy district judge told him last week.
Ryan Kestell, 24, stole to fund his heroin habit, Bodmin court heard.
Kestell, of Lynwood Close, who has no previous convictions, was sentenced to a community order with drug rehabilitation during a hearing on Thursday, December 20.
"This was a serious offence, in breach of trust," Deputy District Judge Purcell told Kestell.
"The one person in society who people need to be able to trust is their postman, particularly in a rural community where they often have to have their parcels left in sheds and porches if they are out.
"However, I have taken account of the fact that you have no previous convictions, pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and want to overcome your drug problem."
Kestell pleaded guilty to stealing £50 in cash and a £20 Next gift card from a mail bag/postal packet belonging to Royal Mail Ltd at Bodmin between August 1 and September 5, 2012; theft of £15 from a greetings card addressed to Kylie Edwards on September 5 and the attempted theft of 32 postal packets on the same date.
The offences came to light after Royal Mail conducted an investigation using test packets following complaints about missing mail.
John Evans, prosecuting on behalf of the Royal Mail, said that until the offences Kestell had worked at the Bodmin delivery office for almost five years.
The office decided to investigate after realising that most of the complaints it had received about missing mail concerned greetings card-type items, which would have been collected by Kestell from Bodmin postboxes.
As a test, the local manager posted three cards in boxes which would be collected by Kestell – two were undelivered.
On September 5 Royal Mail carried out further tests with four specifically prepared postal packages, one with a card and £15 in cash with the serial numbers noted.
Just after lunchtime that day Kestell was seen outside Morrisons in Bodmin.
He had emptied the box there and was in the back of his van going through the mail in some bags. He also put the bag from Morrisons on the front passenger seat and was seen going through that too.
The investigator approached and cautioned him before searching the van where he found ten open greetings card packets. Four other open packets were discovered among other bundles of mail, including the one containing the £15. The Next voucher and half a torn greetings card were found in a search at Kestell's home and of his own vehicle.
When he was interviewed, Kestell initially denied the offences but then owned up, saying he had been doing it for about three months. He said he had taken the £50 from a card to fund his heroin habit.
Mr Evans told the court that the total cost of the Royal Mail investigation had been more that £2,000.
Probation officer Hannah Thomas, giving a pre-sentence report, said that Kestell, now unemployed, was engaging well with the drugs team and presented a low risk of reoffending.
His crimes, carried out over a relatively short time and involving fairly small value items, had been "shambolically conceived and executed" and there had been "no way he would get away with it".
He was very ashamed and sorry for letting everyone down, including the public. "The offences would not have been committed had it not been for the drugs," said Mr Fletcher.
Mr Purcell sentenced Kestell to a 12-month community order with a drug rehabilitation requirement and a training and education programme, as well as ordering him to pay the Royal Mail's legal costs of £200.