Caught out on Facebook, benefits cheat who said he was too depressed to work
SCUBA diving in clear blue waters, holding a pair of exotic parrots and posing topless at a shooting range, he looks like a man in high spirits trying to make the most of his time off work.
These were in fact the exploits of shameless benefits cheat Stephen Astbury while he was pocketing more than £15,000 of taxpayers’ money by falsely claiming he was too depressed to have a job.
The 32-year-old fraudulently received payouts for two years after saying he was unable to work due to mental illnesses that also included a split personality disorder.
But the father-of-five was actually working in construction and the scrap metal trade – and was caught out after investigators checked his Facebook page and found damning evidence of his work.
They also found photos from his extravagant holidays to destinations including Egypt and Spain, with snaps showing him skiing, riding a jet-ski, snorkelling, relaxing on a beach and visiting the Eiffel Tower.
Now Astbury has admitted benefit fraud charges – but avoided a prison sentence after his lawyer argued he has sole custody of his seven-year-old daughter.
Enza Geldard, prosecuting, told Blackburn magistrates that Astbury began claim-
ing employment support allowance and housing benefit genuinely from 2010 on the basis he was too ill to work.
She said: ‘He provided evidence that he was unfit to work due to a split personality disorder as well as anxiety and depression.
‘He was informed to notify the Department of Work and Pensions if his situation was to change.’ However, he did not do so and fraudulently claimed £15,214 between March 2013 and September 2015.
The prosecution added: ‘In July 2014 evidence from his Facebook page showed he was conducting scrap metal work. Evidence also showed that he was insured on a number of vehicles.’ Photos on Facebook of trips taken during the period of his fraud were not used as evidence in court.
A probation officer told the hearing: ‘The defendant accepts these charges but claims he was not aware he had to inform the DWP as he was earning less than £100 a week.
‘He has sole custody of his daughter and wants to give her a better life and spent the money on that. He was remorseful for his actions.’
Ian Huggan, defending, said Astbury described himself as ‘an uneducated tearaway as a child’, but was given custody of his daughter in 2013 and ‘has made great steps to move forward in that regard’.
Sentencing, Irene Devine said: ‘We have heard the evidence you didn’t initially set out to defraud the DWP. You are trying to get your life back on track so we will deal with this in a sympathetic way.’ Astbury, of Great Harwood, Lancashire, was given a 32-week jail sentence suspended for a year and told to pay a £115 victim surcharge.
Exotic holidays: Stephen Astbury, 32, holding a pair of parrots on one of his trips Showing off: Posing with a gun Time of his life: Going scuba diving