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New Milton man Leigh Durham ordered to repay £11,288 in stolen benefits

A NEW Milton man cheated the public purse by claiming thousands in benefits over nearly five years despite having £57,000 in savings.

Leigh Durham (60) was warned by judge Christopher Parker at Southampton Crown Court that he will go to prison if he does not repay the £11,288 he wrongly claimed from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Prosecutor Paul Fairley told the court Durham had claimed Income Support benefits between March 2014 and January 2019.

Durham was sentenced at Southampton Crown Court
Durham was sentenced at Southampton Crown Court

However, a financial investigator subsequently discovered that during this period Durham had £57,000 in a deposit account.

Claimants are only entitled to get Income Support if they have £16,000 or less, Mr Fairley explained.

Durham appeared before the court having admitted one count of failing to notify the DWP of a change in circumstances.

Mr Fairley said that charge was laid since investigators had been unable to prove when the savings were deposited into Durham’s account.

Judge Parker noted Durham had not worked for 10 years and asked him a host of questions, since the defendant appeared in court without legal representation.

Durham explained his wife died 10 years ago and he had suffered numerous health problems since, including a breakdown. He said he now cared for his ailing 90-year-old mother.

The court noted that he had hardly used any of his savings over the past decade, and Durham told the court it was a "pension pot".

He added that he "mistakenly" failed to declare the savings and had "been in a bad place".

Judge Parker decided to spare him a prison sentence, handing him a 12-month community order and telling him to do 15 rehabilitation activity days.

But he also made a proceeds of crime order, meaning if Durham does not pay back the money he will go to prison and the debt will still be hanging over his head afterwards.

"It appeared you were not regularly drawing on those savings, which you describe as a pension pot for later life," he said.

"Whether they were or not, they were capital assets that should have been declared and if they would have been declared you would not have been paid public money."

Judge Parker added: “Do bear it in mind: if you do not engage, if you put your head in the sand, it goes badly for you. This money needs to be paid back.”

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