A FORMER church treasurer, jailed for a £400,000 mortgage scam, has been freed on appeal after top judges ruled his sentence was 'too long'.

Richard Henry Hardy claimed he was a highly-paid dentist, earning nearly £200,000-a-year, to re-mortgage his then home in Upton St Leonards, Gloucester.

His deception was uncovered after he failed to pay back the loan and he was jailed for two years at Gloucester Crown Court in June last year, after being convicted of using a false document and deception.

But the 59-year-old, of Park Road, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, was freed on Thursday after judges sitting at London's Criminal Appeal Court reduced his jail term to 18 months.

The court heard Hardy, the former Upton St Leonards Parochial Church Council treasurer, lied about his profession and income on a mortgage application form to borrow £400,000 against his then home in December 2006.

He also forged his wife's signature on the form and denied having any prior convictions for anything other than motoring offences - when he had in fact been to prison for rape and soliciting murder in the 1980s.

Hardy, who is disabled, admitted the information on the form was false but denied it was him who had filled it in. However, he was found guilty by the jury.

He launched a bid to challenge his convictions, but had his arguments rejected by the Appeal Court judges, who said the jury's verdicts were 'safe'.

However, after hearing his lawyers argue his jail term was excessive in light of his poor health, lack of mobility and the fact he suffers a great deal of pain, the judges agreed to reduce it.

Allowing the sentence appeal, Mrs Justice Swift, sitting with Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice MacDuff, said: "Taking into account the mitigation, we consider that the appropriate sentence would have been 18 months."