A postman who stole so much mail he had to move out of his flat where he stashed it and live with his mother was jailed for 14 months today.
Paul Noga, 38, of Broomlee, Ashington, Northumberland, admitted stealing, stashing or burning almost 50,000 items over a two-year period.
He admitted interfering with mail, criminal damage, theft and arson at a previous hearing.
Included among the thousands of items were sympathy cards to a widower who had just lost his wife.
Noga, who became a postman in 2004, took mail from other employees' compartments rather than his own.
As debts mounted, he continued to steal more and more, eventually filling his flat so that he had to move in with his mother.
Judge Michael Cartlidge, sentencing at Newcastle Crown Court, said: "A trusted employee of the postal service over a period of two years has mistreated postal packages in vast numbers causing no doubt extreme distress of folk."
The judge said Noga, father of a teenage daughter, was troubled by rising debts and his mother falling ill.
"He didn't have to do what he did and his excuse that he was overworked did not apply as he volunteered for overtime."
Noga has lost his Royal Mail pension which has been spent on redelivering mail.
He admitted spending retail vouchers worth £150 and about £1,000 in cash, all taken from post.
Shaun Routledge, defending, said: "The overriding feature of this offending is its lack of sophistication."
He added: "Quite clearly this man has behaved in a way that is nothing short of ludicrous."
Credit cards which were in stolen mail were unused and he made no attempt to alter cheques he found to make them payable to someone else, he said.
Noga, with his shirt hanging out and wearing a beige top, did not react when he was led away.
Outside court, a Royal Mail spokesman said: "Royal Mail has a zero tolerance approach to any dishonesty and that stance is shared by the overwhelming majority of postmen and women, who are honest and hard-working and who do all they can to protect the mail and deliver it safely.
"We will always seek to prosecute the tiny minority of people who abuse their position of trust."