Belfast Telegraph

Donna McCool and Michael Harkin told to repay £80k swindled in benefits

By Steven Alexander

A mother-of-six and her estranged partner have been given until the new year to pay back nearly £80,000 that they swindled from the State - or face jail.

The Social Security Agency's financial investigation unit has obtained two confiscation orders to the value of £38,814 against Donna McCool (47) and Michael Harkin (51).

Between them, the Londonderry couple admitted a total of 11 charges last year as part of a massive benefits fraud that ran for around two decades.

Beginning in 1990, the pair had lied about their marital status, enabling them to unlawfully claim £144,000.

Last June Harkin, of Glenabbey Street in Derry, was jailed for eight months.

McCool, of Circular Road, got five months at the city's Crown Court.

After the sentences were handed down Harkin had shouted obscenities at Judge Piers Grant, despite pleas from his weeping daughters in the public gallery for him to stop.

McCool later failed in a bid to have her jail term cut, after Northern Ireland's most senior judge ruled that her five-month term was justified by the extent of her cheating.

McCool had claimed Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance on the grounds that she was a lone parent, was unable to work and had no savings or other source of income.

Harkin had claimed Income Support and Housing Benefit on the same grounds.

While they were claiming the benefits, neither Harkin nor McCool had declared that they were living together.

Due to McCool's failure to report her true circumstances she received £78,612 in benefits she was not entitled to over a 10-year period.

Harkin received £67,292 in benefits he was not entitled to over an eight-year period.

They pleaded guilty to a total of 11 offences in April 2013.

At yesterday's confiscation hearing the Court granted the Social Security Agency two orders, each for £38,814.

Harkin and McCool now face an 18-month prison sentence if the money is not paid. Both have been given a deadline of January 2, 2015 to hand over the money.

Belfast Telegraph


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