4 Jun 2014

Judge says benefit thief untruthful

A former GMTV reporter who fraudulently claimed tens of thousands of pounds in housing benefits has been ordered to repay more than £100,000 after a judge said he ‘found it difficult to trust a word she said’.

Louise Port, 38, who worked on GMTV until 2006, broke down in tears as Southwark Crown Court heard how she swindled more than £70,000 in housing benefits while making money by renting out properties in London.

The judge today ordered the ex-girlfriend of former Scotland football manager Craig Brown to repay the money with interest after hearing how she spent the cash to pay off her credit card debts.

Port, who also failed to declare to authorities that she owned a two bedroom flat in Isleworth, Middlesex, was found guilty at a previous hearing of wrongly claiming £76,157.14 in housing benefit between September 2006 and August 2011.

She escaped prison because she suffers from epilepsy and was instead handed an 18-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to carry out 120 hours of community service after the judge ruled she had carried out ‘deliberate deception’.

Port has now been ordered to repay the £76,000 plus interest to City of Westminster Council, to which she also owes £10,000 in council tax.

Port, who attended court with her father Campbell, wept in the dock as the judge told her she must also repay £15,000 - half the prosecution costs to bring the case to court. It means she must repay a total of £106,000. (h/t Dave)

At the hearing at Southwark Crown Court, Judge Anthony Pitts said:
I must confess I find it very difficult to trust a word she says in terms of honesty. Of course she has had great difficulties in her life, but it is quite clear to me that she lied whenever it suited her to the jury with considerable front, and despite her sad personal problems the jury agreed. And I don’t believe again, I’m afraid, what I have heard from Miss Port.’
The former journalist, who has also worked for the BBC, has six months to pay or faces being jailed.

The judge said: ‘The period for this amount of money is up to two years imprisonment but I will pass a period of one year’s imprisonment in default of payment.’

The Scot, who now rents a flat in Charing Cross, central London, must sell the Isleworth flat she bought when she was 20 to repay the cash.

She had earlier told the court she could afford to pay back just £74,000 and tried to claim her father owned a 27 per cent of the property, which she bought in 1996 for £89,000. It has now more than trebled in price and is worth around £300,000.

However, Alexandra Ward, prosecuting, said that the £25,000 he gave her to buy it was ‘a gift from a father to daughter,’ not a registered investment, and accused Port of making it up to avoid paying back the full amount.

Port, who also worked for Radio 1, Radio 5 Live and read the sports news on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show, was convicted of four counts of housing benefit fraud - three of making dishonest representations to obtain benefit and one of failing to declare a change in circumstances.

At a sentencing hearing in February, the court heard how she failed to declare that she was receiving more than £1,000-a-month in rent from a flat that she owned near Canary Wharf.

It was also revealed she had £87,000 in equity on the property and was also receiving £1,150 a month from a property in the West End.

Port, who used to have long blonde hair but now sports a shaved head, today works in nightclubs and as a nursing assistant at University College Hospital to make ends meet.

In 2008, Port lost a £500,000 disability discrimination and unfair dismissal claim against GMTV after insisting she was forced out for refusing to work night shifts because of her epilepsy.

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