South Shields pensioner spared jail after £40,000 benefit fraud

Barry Stephenson was spared jail at Newcastle Crown Court

Barry Stephenson was spared jail at Newcastle Crown Court

A benefit cheat has been spared jail after pocketing over £40,000 during a 13-year fraud.

Barry Stephenson claimed handouts between June 2002 and October 2015 on the basis he had no income of his own.

But Newcastle Crown Court heard the 71-year-old was receiving payments of £320 a month from three private pensions and a mine worker's pension.

Prosecutor Claire Anderson told the court Stephenson was paid Jobseekers' Allowance, Income Support and pension credits over the relevant period.

She added: "He was awarded the relevant payments on condition he had to notify the department of any changes in circumstances that could have affected his entitlement.

"Information came to light that he had failed to declare various pensions.

"In total, he was in receipt of £320 per month from various payments and that income was not disclosed when making his claims for benefits."

Stephenson, of Dean Road, South Shields, was found guilty of three charges of benefit fraud totalling £40,104 after a trial at the magistrates court.

The court heard he had denied acting dishonestly and said he had been mistaken through ignorance.

Mr Recorder Singh said the length of time the fraud went on for and the large amount of money involved would ordinarily mean an immediate jail term must follow, "no questions asked".

But the judge said Stephenson's previous positive character, lack of any convictions and the fact he has paid back a lump sum of over £7,500 meant his prison sentence could be suspended.

He told Stephenson: "The likelihood of you troubling the courts again is low, both in terms of re-offending and harm to the public."

Michelle Stonley, defending, said Stephenson has already paid back £7,528 and will repay the outstanding amount in instalments.