Belfast Telegraph

Man walks free after £28k fraud of benefits

By George Jackson

A father-of-two who admitted falsely obtaining income support and housing benefit payments totalling just over £28,000 has walked free from the Crown Court in Londonderry after his jail sentence was suspended for 18 months.

Judge Patrick Kinney was told that John Harris (53), from Lecky Road in the Brandywell area of the city, had concealed the money in 10 different bank accounts and had failed to declare that his savings exceeded the legal limit for a person receiving benefits.

The deception occurred over a nine year period starting in March 2003. When he was interviewed in March of last year, Harris said he did not know how much capital he was permitted, as a benefits recipient, to keep in his accounts.

He said his daughter had given him sums totalling £6,000 because she did not want her tax credits to be affected.

He used that money to pay a site fee for a caravan park, buy a new car and go on an anniversary holiday with his wife.

Defence barrister Ivor McAteer said Harris, who is also a grandfather, was the sole carer for his wife who has Multiple Sclerosis.

He said the amounts of money in the various bank accounts were small and there was no evidence that Harris had used the money to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

Mr McAteer said the total of just over £28,000 was under appeal and could be reduced by several thousand pounds. Harris was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months.

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