Stron­tian ben­e­fit cheat fined £1,500 for £24,000 false claim

The Oban Times - - The Oban Times & West Highland Times -

A BEN­E­FIT cheat who falsely claimed al­most £25,000 has been or­dered to pay £1,500 as pun­ish­ment.

Charles Wright, of Larch Cot­tage, Mon­u­ment Park, Stron­tian, gave false in­for­ma­tion to the Depart­ment for Work and Pen­sions (DWP) in March 2008.

The 73-year- old claimed he had only £4,000 of sav­ings and owned no other prop­er­ties. This al­lowed Wright to fraud­u­lently claim ben­e­fits of £24,340.52 be­tween March 2008 and June 2012.

Wright even­tu­ally pleaded guilty to the charge in 2015. Last month he pre­sented a cheque for £16,000 to cover the re­main­ing amount owed and on Tues­day he ap­peared in Fort Wil­liam Sher­iff Court for sen­tenc­ing.

Sher­iff Wil­liam Tay­lor presided over the case, dur­ing which it was heard the fraud­u­lent claims were made by Wright dur­ing a phone call and be­cause of the na­ture of the con­ver­sa­tion and the fact he was in his own home, Wright had taken a more ‘cava­lier’ ap­proach to his fi­nances.

De­fence lawyer Hamish Mel­rose also con­firmed Wright’s cheques had cleared and that he had ac­tu­ally paid slightly in ex­cess of what was owed.

When ex­plain­ing Wright’s cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, Mr Mel­rose said a so­cial back­ground re­port was con­ducted a year ago and since then his cir­cum­stances have not ma­te­ri­ally changed but that Mr Wright now qual­i­fies for ben­e­fits. The court also heard it was de­cided there was no need for a pro­ceeds of crime ap­pli­ca­tion to be made as long as full re­im­burse­ment was made to the DWP.

Sher­iff Tay­lor in­ter­jected, rais­ing the point that this was a ‘con­tin­ued crime’ which took place over many years and where a man who had claimed more than £24,340 in pen­sion credit was be­lieved to have nearly half a mil­lion pounds worth of as­sets.

With re­gards to the fig­ures Mr Mel­rose replied: ‘That is dis­puted.’

Mr Mel­rose added: ‘ Mr Wright re­ceives £120 per week and that is the sole in­come for both he and his wife and he has no as­sets.’

The Sher­iff ques­tioned Mr Mel­rose’ state­ment that Wright has no as­sets.

When in­formed the prop- erty he cur­rently lives in is now owned by his daugh­ter, Sher­iff Tay­lor said to Wright: ‘It seems to me that that was an at­tempt to di­vest your­self of as­sets in or­der to pre­vent any money be­ing ob­tained.’

Mr Mel­rose de­fended Wright and said the false claims had been made in re­la­tion to in­her­i­tance tax but since then the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion has been sub­mit­ted.

He also said: ‘Ir­re­spec­tive of the as­sets, Mr Wright be­lieved he was en­ti­tled to that money be­cause of his age.’

Sher­iff Tay­lor replied: ‘It seems to me that you are a per­son who is a stranger to the truth.

‘ You de­frauded the pub­lic purse and ex­pected to be pat­ted on head and the sent away. Cus­tody is a real op­tion here.’

Mr Mel­rose replied: ‘ Mr Wright is aware of that.’

He told the court Wright had at­tended court reg­u­larly and he had dis­cussed this with his client but he urged for the se­ri­ous­ness of Wright’s crimes to be mit­i­gated by his age, the fact the money had been re­im­bursed and that he has no pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions and hoped an al­ter­na­tive route may be avail­able.

The Sher­iff replied that the route he found at­trac­tive was a fi­nan­cial one.

He added: ‘Given the facts that are avail­able to me, I think a fi­nan­cial penalty is ap­pro­pri­ate.’

Af­ter dis­cussing the fine with his lawyer, it was agreed Wright would pay £1,500 in £100 in­stal­ments on a monthly ba­sis.

Pho­to­graph by An­thony MacMil­lan Photography.

Charles Wright leaves Fort Wil­liam Court in dis­guise on Tues­day.

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