A thief who stole dozens of metal post boxes from villages and rural areas across North Wales and Shropshire and sold them on eBay has escaped immediate custody.

Mold Crown Court heard today that Mark Crowther went with specialist equipment to remove the boxes from their locations.

He had previous admitted stealing or attempting to steal 37 post boxes worth more than £11,000 between 2012 and 2014. But it left the Royal Mail with a £26,000 bill including replacements.

The 37-year-old, of Linden Avenue, Chirk, didn’t go to jail because of the delay by Royal Mail in bringing the case against him. He had first been “on the radar” back in 2014 as a suspect, the court heard.

Judge Niclas Parry said that over a period of two years he was effectively “carrying out an attack on the way of life in rural communities.”

“You were stealing post boxes that were located where they were because they were providing a service to rural communities,” he said.

Judge Parry said the aggravating features were obvious – there were a large number of offences, it went on for a long time, it was pre-planned and Crowther went along with drills, screwdrivers and other equipment having researched the issue on the internet.

“You were making money by selling these items to unsuspecting people on eBay,” the judge added.

Judge Parry said he accepted that no contents, no mail, had been stolen but the offences had an impact on rural communities and their way of life.

Crowther received a 12-month prison sentence suspended for 16 months and was ordered to carry out the maximum 300 hours unpaid work in the community.

He had limited means and could not pay costs and compensation – but the judge agreed the costs could be paid from central funds.

Judge Parry said that he had heard of late post but asked why it had taken so long to come to court.

Prosecuting barrister Douglas Lloyd said there had been a substantial investigation into the defendant and others involving a larger area going back to 2010 but said he conceded that there had been delays in the case.

Defending barrister Brian Treadwell said the offences dated back a long time and since then he had transformed his life. He had two children and was working hard as a coatings operative where he was a valued employee. He urged a suspended sentence.

Some of the locations Crowther stole post boxes from included Chirk Station, Sodylt in Ellesmere, Chequer Box in Long Waste, Whitchurch, and Llwyn Road, Park Hall, Bronygarth and the Old Racecourse in Oswestry.