A postal worker who stole almost €2,000 in cash gifts sent by mail has been sentenced to six months in jail.
Belfast Magistrates' Court heard Darren Johnston targeted birthday cards containing money during a 14-month campaign of opening packages due for delivery.
The 29-year-old, of Gleneagles in Cloughmills, Co Antrim, was told the scale of his breach of public trust warranted immediate imprisonment.
However, District Judge Amanda Henderson granted bail pending the outcome of an appeal against the jail term she imposed.
Johnston was convicted of stealing a total of £1,280 (€1,761) in cash on dates between July 2013 and September 2014.
He also took two DVDs and a bank card from other parcels.
As well as the thefts he was sentenced for six counts of interfering with mail.
Johnston has since lost his job as a Royal Mail postal operator.
As he appeared in court today for sentencing, a defence barrister acknowledged the gravity of the offences.
Michael Ward said: "For those members of the public deprived of this money it was a disgrace."
Johnston had come under financial pressure to support his family while his partner was off work, the court heard.
According to Mr Ward the defendant's £300 a week salary became "stretched" as he struggled with debts.
"What he did thereafter was foolish, stupid and selfish," the lawyer accepted.
"He has made himself practically unemployable, and it's going to be a difficult road back."
A remorseful Johnston wants to try to repay those he stole from, Mr Ward added.
But Mrs Henderson emphasised how the thieving went on for more than a year.
She told the defendant: "You were working for the Post Office, routinely opening mail and targeting mail you thought contained money for gifts.
"I view this as a most serious breach of trust."
The judge also pointed out: "Nobody knows the financial means of the persons who were stolen from."
Despite Johnston's guilty plea and previously clear record, she ordered him to serve six months in prison.
With Johnston's legal team confirming their intention to appeal the sentence, he was later released from custody on £500 bail.