Belfast Telegraph

Benefit fraud paid for my girl’s college fees

By George Jackson

A single mother-of-two who pleaded guilty to swinding almost £58,000 in benefits has been told by a judge to expect to be sent to jail.

A barrister for former Western Health and Social Care Trust support nurse Sharon Nelson (52) had said the money was to put her daughter through university.

But Judge Piers Grant expressed disbelief as her fraud continued for more than eight years — longer than any degree course.

The Londonderry Crown Court judge said that the length of her offending and the amount of fraud involved had crossed the custody threshold.

Nelson stole housing benefits, carer’s allowance and income support over an eight-year period beginning in August 2003.

“You have effectively stolen a very substantial amount of money from various agencies which provide benefits,” Judge Grant told Nelson.

“This is public money, it is people’s taxes which should have been properly used to fund hospitals and educational needs and those other people who deserve benefits.”

Defence barrister Paul Kearney said Nelson, from Primity Crescent, Newbuildings, was the primary carer for her sick father.

“I have a letter from her GP who says she is on the highest possible dosage of anti-depressant.

“The money was certainly not used to fund an extravagant lifestyle, it was used to put her daughter through university,” he said.

However, Judge Grant said that Nelson's period of offending was longer than the duration of a university degree course.

“It can't all have been for her daughter's education because she offended for eight years,” he added.

Nelson was remanded in custody until she is sentenced next Tuesday.

She was interviewed in June 2011 and made full admissions.

She has been paying back £100 per month.

And the current outstanding total is £57,255.

Nelson also has previous convictions for dishonesty in 1984, 1994 and 2004.

Her barrister said she has been on sick leave since she was interviewed and charged with the offences.

Judge Grant said: “She says in her probation report that she knew what she was doing was wrong and says she considered stopping her behaviour, but continued to take this money.”

In mitigation, her barrister said Nelson would lose her job.

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