Corrupt tycoon Stephen Hinchliffe escaped a prison sentence on Wednesday despite being convicted of one of the UK's largest corporate frauds through a retail empire that included Sock Shop and Freeman Hardy Willis.

The 53-year-old was given a 15-month jail term, suspended for two years, by a judge at the Old Bailey in London after he admitted diverting huge sums of money from company accounts into his own pocket.

His firm Facia went bust seven years ago with debts of £100 million leaving thousands of the 8,500 staff at its 850 shops without jobs. Although the illegal payments did not cause its collapse they did add to its financial woes.

The judge said he had spared Hinchliffe prison as he had already spent two years of a four year jail term on bribery and fraud charges related to the case and was released early on licence only recently. He also banned him as acting as a company director of 12 years.