Benefit cheat claimed £46,000

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A HARROGATE man has been spared jail despite falsely claiming more than £46,000 in benefits.

Robert William Duncan, of Eleanor Drive, was sentenced at York Crown Court on Monday after pleading guilty last month to six charges.

The court heard the money had been paid over a period of around six years, when Duncan was also receiving a pension which he failed to declare.

But Recorder David Preston said that, despite the high value of the case, the circumstances meant he would not be giving an immediate prison sentence.

He told Duncan: “It’s very sad to see someone like you before this court.”

The court heard Duncan, 56, had previously had a good work record, including 15 years working for the ambulance service, before an injury forced him to retire early in 1999. Mr Preston said he accepted that that was hard for Duncan, who had worked all his life, and that his self-worth was tied up with his value to the community.

Mr Preston said: “You were obviously finding it difficult to cope financially and that resulted in your decision to tick the wrong box on the form.

“You weren’t living the high life and taking in thousands of pounds a week, but it happened over a long period of time.

“No doubt when you saw these figures, you were pretty shocked.”

Mr Preston praised the defendant for his efforts to sort out his finances and the mental health problems he had suffered when he was unable to work. He also gave Duncan credit for pleading guilty to the six charges of making false statements relating to benefit claims.

He said: “I have to balance the seriousness of the offence with what’s right for you and for society.

“You couldn’t complain, Mr Duncan, if you were locked up for these offences, although it would have to be for a relatively short period of time.

“That being the case, I think you and the wider society are better served by you being punished in some other way so you can give something back to society and ensure you don’t offend again – and I’m sure you won’t.”

Mr Preston sentenced Duncan to nine months in prison, suspended for 12 months, along with 180 hours of unpaid work, and ordered him to pay back the money.