A semi-professional footballer who conned his team-mates into believing his young daughter had died of cancer was spared jail yesterday.
Simon Carmichael reduced fellow players to tears last year when he told them his four-year-old daughter Taomi had died of throat cancer shortly before Christmas.
Management, players and supporters at Bedfordshire side Arlesey Town raised £455 as a gesture of sympathy.
Yet Taomi was alive and well and living with her mother, Carmichael's ex-girlfriend, in Milton Keynes. Carmichael, 25, spent the money on himself.
He admitted one charge of obtaining property by deception and was told by the judge at Luton Crown Court that his actions had been "nasty and despicable".
Judge Jeffrey Burke QC said: "My task is to sentence you for one of the most mean and shaming offences of deception I have come across." He sentenced Carmichael to 120 hours' community service and imposed a six-month curfew and costs of £500.
Carmichael hung his head throughout yesterday's hearing. Taomi's grandparents stormed out of the public gallery as they saw him spared jail.
Speaking outside the court, her grandmother Vivian Barney called Carmichael "sick" and said he should serve a prison sentence.
Railway worker Carmichael, now of Lancaster Road, Great Yarmouth, lied about the death just to escape a training session and had not meant for team-mates to raise the cash, defence counsel Alistair Polson said.
Fans and squad members observed a minute's silence for the little girl and collected the cash after the side's match on Boxing Day.
Carmichael accepted the money and even told tearful clubmates of the coffin he planned to buy for his daughter's funeral.
But when the story appeared in the club's newsletter, Taomi's mother, Stacey Nevin, 22, of Fishermead, Milton Keynes, contacted the club to tell them the little girl was alive and well.
Carmichael refused to comment as he fled the court with his new fiancée.