Nelson benefits cheat jailed after he blew £41,000 on drink

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A BENEFITS cheat who blew more than £41,300 of taxpayers’ cash entirely on drink is behind bars for 28 weeks.

Father-of-two Michael Knight was claiming handouts while his wife Michelle worked as a carer, earning up to £771 a month.

He only stopped because he was caught red-handed by investigators, who brought an end to the seven-year eight-month scam. Burnley Crown Court was told.

Knight, said to have been drinking since he was seven, had admitted failing to promptly notify a change in circumstances between February, 2003 and October, 2010. The defendant (49), of Reedyford Road, Nelson, had been committed for sentence by magistrates and had no previous convictions.

Mr Michael Lavery (prosecuting for the Department for Work and Pensions) said, from October 2001, Knight claimed income support for himself, his wife and two dependent children on the basis he was unable to work. He also claimed incapacity benefits.

Evidence was available to show that, from February 2003, Mrs Knight was working. In October 2010, the defendant was interviewed under caution by the DWP and denied knowledge of some of his wife’s employment. He was interviewed again last April and said he would have known about all her jobs. The overpayment of income support was £41,314.

Miss Laura Barbour (for Knight) urged the judge to pass a suspended sentence. She continued: “These types of offences cause the public a large enormous disquiet.The money which was fraudulently obtained is public money. It wasn’t his to spend and he ought never to have had it. He knows that and it causes him an enormous amount of shame.”

Miss Barbour said Knight, who had suffered depression, had not claimed any benefits since he was apprehended even though he was entitled to as he was considered by the state to be disabled and unable to work.The family was now on the breadline and surviving on £81 a week.

The defendant had been drinking since he was seven, had drunk regularly since his mid teens and had had alcohol every day since he was 17.

The barrister said Knight had made significant efforts to stop drinking and had been to Inspire for help, but had fallen off the wagon. She continued: “He has been drinking every day. He has been drinking as much as he can. He has been drinking less than he was but that’s because of the family’s limited means and not through choice.”

Miss Barbour said, as well as the defendant’s problem with alcohol, he had other health problems and was due to have a biopsy next month on a suspected tumour in his neck.

Mrs Knight had been getting regular visits from bailiffs and the couple were unable to pay their debts. She felt she would be unable to cope without her husband. The defendant was full of remorse for what he had done. The barrister added: “He was acting on an impulse borne out of an addiction.”

Sentencing, Judge Beverly Lunt, who had read psychiatric reports on Knight, told him: “You are not an alcoholic. You could, if you choose, put that lifestyle behind you, but you do not.”

She continued: “This was £41,314 of taxpayers’ money that could have been helping those in dire need and you frittered it all away on drink. You didn’t have dire financial circumstances yourself. It is a dreadful waste of money and an aggravating feature in this case.”

The judge said the defendant had been treated for depression in 2001 and 2002, but added: “Your real problem is that you will not give up drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. The court must punish you and deter others.”