A SOUTH Durham bus company has been found guilty of helping one of its drivers fraudulently claim benefits.

Business partners Andrew Michael Bird and Gillian Bird, who jointly run Shildon-based Birds taxis, were fined £250 each for misleading inspectors from the Department for Work and Pensions about a member of staff.

Bishop Auckland Magistrates' Court heard yesterday that inspectors met the partners to collect details about the hours and wages of staff as part of a large investigation of bus and taxis firms in the Shildon area.

As part of their investigation, inspectors found that one of the company's drivers, June Brown, 49, of Willington, was claiming incapacity benefits while completing a school run in Darlington.

She later admitted working ten to 20 hours each week for which she was paid £35 and was subsequently charged and sentenced in relation to £5,000 of benefit fraud.

Mr Bird, 32, of Hind Court, Woodham Village, had declared that Mrs Brown worked five hours, for £18.50 a week, which his aunt, Mrs Bird, 44, of Northumberland Avenue, Bishop Auckland, had confirmed the information.

The Birds denied the charges, claiming the time Mrs Brown was considered to be working was only when she carried children between home and school in Darlington, not while driving the bus between her home and the school run.

Magistrates found the pair guilty of supplying a false list of workers, which did not include the full details of Mrs Brown's employment, and that in doing so they were also guilty of obstructing inspectors investigating the case.

They were also ordered to pay costs of £250 each.