11 Mar 2013

Benefit thief's sentence cut

A benefit cheat who was jailed for making £75,000 of bogus claims over seven years has had her prison term halved by the Court of Appeal.

Andrea Blakeburn, 46, was jailed for more than two years in November after she admitted benefit fraud, but three of the UK’s most senior judges ruled that the original sentence had been excessive.

Blakeburn claimed housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support as a single mother between 2003 and 2010 after failing to tell the authorities her boyfriend had moved into her Darlington home.

Her lies were uncovered when her partner, Ronald Thomas, was found hiding under the bed-covers at her home in Pateley Moor Crescent by suspicious council officials.

The mother-of three was jailed for two years and four months in November last year after she admitted 10 counts of making false statements and two of failing to notify a change in circumstances at Teesside Crown Court.

Blakeburn had received excess payments worth more than £51,000 in income support and more than £23,000 in housing benefit and council tax benefit.

In sentencing, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton told Blakeburn that he was sending a message from the court that “whatever the mitigation, people who carry out benefit fraud to this extent will go to prison”.

He described the cheating as "persistent, deliberate and determined".

But Sir David Calvert-Smith, sitting with Lord Justice Davis and Mr Justice Silber, at the Court of Appeal in London agreed with a challenge from Blakeburn’s lawyers that the original sentence was too long and had too high a starting point.

Sir David said:
We agree this sentence was manifestly excessive. There were no features in the case, in our judgment, which should have taken it outside the guideline range of sentence.

"In our judgment, the proper starting point was in the region of 15 to 16 months and, bearing in mind the early guilty plea and the other features involved, we propose to reduce it to a sentence of 10 months. To that extent the appeal is allowed.
The court also heard that Blakeburn began paying back the money owed to Darlington Borough Council before she started her prison term.

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