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£40,000 Redcar benefits cheat locked up to send a message to others
A BENEFITS cheat who pocketed £40,000 with a series of bogus claims was locked up today (Tuesday) as a judge told him: "It is necessary to send a consistent message about these problems."
Peter MacDonald was jailed for ten months just a day after after top-level calls from the country's most senior prosecutor for tougher punishments for people who swindle the system.
MacDonald and his wife Lavinia worked as cleaners, but pretended to be unemployed to collect Income Support, JobSeekers' Allowance, council tax relief and housing benefit for five years.
The 61-year-old also picked up Incapacity Benefit for eight weeks by claiming to have vertigo - but went to work and raked in a further £2,000 in wages when he was meant to be ill.
On Monday, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, announced that a tough crackdown would see cheats who defraud the public purse face up to ten years in prison.
Judge Howard Crowson told MacDonald: "It is necessary in these sorts of cases that the message is properly given because this is the sort of offending that is so rife in this country.
"People seem to contemplate that they can continue these safe in the knowledge that they will not be detected and can argue it was not used for high living, but you used it for your living.
"You chose to spend this money for your own benefit. In that way, the country lost £40,000. I take the view that it is necessary to send a consistent message about these problems."
Teesside Crown Court heard how MacDonald got nearly £18,500 Incapacity Benefit, £16,800 in housing and council tax relief, almost £3,000 in Income Support and £2,700 JobSeekers' Allowance.
Prosecutor Martin Towers said throughout the time - from February 2007 to March 2012 - both MacDonald and his wife worked full-time as cleaners for two different companies.
Andrew Foster, mitigating, told Judge Crowson that locking him up would lead to both of them losing their jobs and little prospect of them being able to pay back the money.
Mr Foster described "dire financial affairs" and said MacDonald used the benefits he swindled to meet funeral costs for his father and sister, and care home bills for his mother.
"It was not being used to fund any type of lavish lifestyle," he maintained. "A suspended sentence would allow him to continue paying this back and continue in employment."
MacDonald, of Kildare Grove, Redcar, east Cleveland, admitted one charge of failing to notify a change of circumstances and three of making a dishonest representation.
Judge Crowson told him: "I am invited to the view that this is somehow an unhappy situation forced upon you by death, but it seems perfectly clear that you decided to make dishonest applications."
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