22 Mar 2017

Jack the lad benefit fraudster

A man has been spared jail after he claimed £15,000 in benefits saying that he was too depressed and ‘anxious’ to work.

Stephen Astbury, 31, spent two years on benefits saying he had a split personality disorder.

But investigators collared him when they saw him on Facebook on a jet ski, snorkelling, posing with parrots, and in front of the Eiffel Tower.

The pictures also showed him working in the construction and scrap metal industries, quad biking, scrambling on bikes and using a JCB.

Magistrates in Blackburn heard that Astbury, from Great Harwood, Lancashire, was given a 90 per cent chance of losing his life in a crash on the M66 and was left unable to work.

Prosecutor Miss Enza Geldard said: ‘The defendant falsely claimed Employment Support Benefit and Housing benefit and this has led to a considerable over payment totalling £15,214. He had begun collecting ESA in 2010 on the basis that he was too ill to work and applied for housing benefit alongside this. 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 in July 2014 evidence from his Facebook page showed that he was conduction scrap metal work. Evidence also showed that he was insured on a number of vehicles. They were insured for business purposes but the defendant was still entitled to drive these vehicles.’

A probation officer told the court: ‘The defendant accepts these charges but claims he was not aware he had to inform the DWP as he we 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. He has five children in total with just his daughter residing in his care and he has built up debts of £9,000 – he will be needing assistance with that debt.’

Defending, Ian Huggan said: ‘This was not fraud from the outset the fraudulent claims began in 2013. People can still claim benefits if they are working less than 16 hours a week or earning less than £100 a week and there was some confusion surrounding that.

‘He is the sole carer of a seven year-old daughter and that is something that came about in 2013. He is someone who has made great steps to move forward in that regard. He describes himself as an uneducated tear away as a child when he was residing at home with his mother and step father. Last month he was involved in a very serious road traffic collision where he was in a situation of having a 90% chance of losing his life. He believes that this is a chance and opportunity to provide for his family.’

Astbury was given a 32 week prison sentence suspended for 12 months and was ordered to pay a £115 victim surcharge. Sentencing, JP Irene Devine said: ‘We have heard the evidence in regards to the fact that you didn’t initially set out to defraud the DWP or indeed the people. Looking at this you are trying to do everything you can to get your life back on track so we are going to try and deal with this in a sympathetic way but punish you at the same time. We hope this will prevent you from defrauding the department of work and pensions and the people again.’

P.S. Celia Walden (£) suggests Astbury was suffering from cretinitis.

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