Bideford fisherman with £250,000 savings guilty of benefit fraud
A RETIRED fisherman has falsely claimed almost £25,000 in benefits after failing to tell authorities he had almost ten times that sum in a savings account - because he didn't consider the money "his".
Ronald Newton, 65, of 141 Moreton Park Road, Bideford, pleaded guilty to two counts of falsely obtaining benefits when he appeared at North Devon Magistrates' Court this morning.
The court heard how Newton had failed to declare savings of £239,467.42 he had inherited from his late father.
Lindsay Baker, for the prosecution, told magistrates how a Department of Work and Pensions investigation had uncovered additional accounts Newton held with Barclays and the Alliance and Leicester, which he hadn't declared when he started claiming benefits.
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He admitted making false statements in November 2009 and July 2011 and falsely claiming a total of £24,597.
"The claims were false from the outset," said Miss Baker, "and had he declared the savings he would never have received any benefits."
She also told the court Newton has a conviction for a similar offence committed in 2000.
Tony Dart, for the defence said Newton hadn't committed the offences dishonestly though, and said they were down to "an oversight".
"My client is truly embarrassed he's here," he said, "retired and in failing health.
"He has acted out of character and he should have known better.
"He cared for his father up to his death and was left an inheritance.
"But he and his wife haven't touched the money.
"They thought, "well that's for the children". He told me "I didn't regard it as mine"."
However, presiding magistrate Robin Hagley wasn't convinced by Mr Dart's argument that the offence was committed because of Newton's "foolishness" or "carelessness".
"We do consider the seriousness of this case means it has crossed the custody threshold," Mr Hagley said.
"In both cases the claims were fraudulent from the outset."
Mr Hagley sentenced Newton to 12 weeks in custody for each of the offences, with the sentences to run consecutively and be suspended for one year.
He was also ordered to pay £85 costs.