A postman stole hundreds of items of mail he was supposed to deliver to people in Desborough.
Heartless David Starkey, 38, had been posting letters through doors in his hometown for more than a dozen years when an investigation into damaged post began.
And when challenged he admitted stealing about 10 items of post a day for about 12 months - looking for greetings cards and money inside them to pay off his debts.
His cruel actions saw him sentenced to a suspended prison term at Northampton Magistrates' Court on Tuesday (July 23).
The court heard Starkey, of Oak Tree Close, worked out of the Kettering sorting office and delivered letters and parcels in Desborough.
Suspicions were roused after damaged mail was found in the sorting office on the night shift, where Starkey was one of just two workers. Post had shown signs of being opened.
The Desborough man took time off work but when he returned the investigation continued with some items not received.
Prosecuting, Lauren Butts said: "They had effectively gone missing."
On May 3 this year Royal Mail investigators visited his home after he had collected his deliveries.
They cautioned him and searched his delivery pouch.
Miss Butts said: "They found several items that had been opened."
Starkey, who had worked for Royal Mail since 2005, admitted stealing for about a year and told investigators he had taken about 10 items every day.
The exact amount of money he stole will never be known although Starkey, a trusted member of the workforce, said it was about £550.
It is highly likely that some of that money was intended for young children to mark a birthday.
He was immediately suspended by the Royal Mail before resigning two weeks later.
The court heard Starkey, who has a gambling problem, turned to stealing after he got into so much debt it ended his relationship with his partner.
His financial difficulties to the tune of £16,000 left him on the verge of bankruptcy earlier this year.
When interviewed by a probation officer he admitted stealing post was "a horrible thing to do" and that he "felt sick thinking about it".
Mitigating, Waqar Ali said Starkey was an avid cricketer in Desborough but had turned into a bit of a social recluse.
He said he had been shunned by friends and family and suffered from depression and anxiety.
He said: "He has been isolated and has kept himself to himself."
Starkey has since found a job in a warehouse and Mr Ali said he was a man of good character with a strong work ethic.
He added: "There is no question that this is a breach of trust and he will be the first to accept that."
Magistrates handed Starkey a 26-week jail term but suspended it for a year.
He was made to carry out 60 hours of unpaid work and must undertake 25 rehabilitation days.
Chairman of the bench Amy Crawfurd said: "This is a serious offence [because of] the emotional distress that would have been caused to the intended recipients of the cards and gifts as well as the damage to the reputation of the Royal Mail."
Mrs Crawfurd ordered Starkey to pay £335.29 in compensation to Royal Mail to cover replacement postage costs and a £115 victim surcharge. He has already agreed a court costs settlement with them to be deducted from his pension.
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “Royal Mail has a zero tolerance approach to any dishonesty and the safety and security of mail is of the utmost importance to this business.
"Royal Mail will always seek to prosecute the tiny minority of people who abuse their position of trust.”