Caught out on Face­book, ben­e­fits cheat who said he was too de­pressed to work

Daily Mail - - News - By James Tozer

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-

‘Un­e­d­u­cated tear­away’

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

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