Belfast Telegraph

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Bonfire builder jailed over football shirt fraud while claiming dole

John Russell
John Russell

By Paul Higgins

A football shirt fraudster will spend the next six months behind bars after getting caught claiming the dole while flogging counterfeit kits online.

Loyalist bonfire builder John Russell (53) admitted benefit fraud at Craigavon Crown Court last Friday, with Judge Patrick Lynch telling him: "I gave you a chance and I am sure on that occasion I would have warned you that if you appeared for any other offence you would be sent to prison.

"You took a chance and it hasn't worked out for you. The court must make good on suspended sentences."

The court was told that greedy Portadown-based Russell had received both housing benefit and income support without informing the relevant agencies that he was selling football shirts online under the fake name David Droonan.

The same business had landed Russell in trouble in the past with convictions for counterfeiting resulting in a 2015 suspended sentence.

His latest crimes amassed him £8,534 in income support and £7,745 in housing benefit, giving a total of £16,279.

Craigavon Court heard how despite being on the dole, Russell, with an address on Drumcarn Gardens, was able to buy a caravan and afford trips to Florida. His defence barrister said: "After that (initial suspended) sentence he started working, but in 2016 his daughter was taken off his wife and placed in his custody.

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"Mr Russell started claiming benefits as he could no longer work and then returned to selling football shirts online, it was more like £50 here and £100 there."

Scheming Russell is well-known in Portadown and every Twelfth plays a leading role in the Corcrain estate bonfire.

When the self-styled community worker was convicted of £40,000 benefit fraud in 2015, he was forced to pay back half this figure to avoid jail.

He had been claiming Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit on the grounds that he was a lone parent with no savings or sources of income.

But a trawl of his bank accounts found thousands of pounds and proof that he is a regular trader on eBay.

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