Tagged: Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.

Sunderland Jobcentre staff stole claimants’ benefits after getting into debt

A civil servant siphoned off nearly £2,000 from people’s benefits after struggling to meet the payments of his pay-day loan.

Anthony Osborne was paying £700 from his monthly salary to meet the “exorbitant” interest rates of his loan, Sunderland magistrates were told.

He turned to crime and took £1,932 in just five weeks after realising he could alter bank details on customers’ electronic records.

But he was caught after two claimants complained they had not received their benefits and an internal audit was carried out.

Osborne, 42, was arrested and pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position before Sunderland Magistrates’ Court in June.

At a sentencing hearing this week, Osborne blamed mounting debts and depression for the deception, described in court as being totally out of character for a man who had never been in trouble with the law.

Osborne, who gave his address in court as Wark Street, Chester-le-Street, carried out the fraud at Job Centre Plus in Sunderland, where he had worked for seven years.

Prosecutor John McGlone said over five weeks from December 6, the benefits processor helped himself to the cash, which was paid into two bank accounts he had access to.

Chris Wilson, defending, said Osborne was struggling to keep up with the demands from his loan.

It was not frivolous spending,” he said, “but more a case of making ends meet.”

Vulnerabilities in the system were identified by him and effectively it was to his benefit. The actions of Mr Osborne on this occasion were completely out of character.

“He has never come under the spotlight of the police or his employment.

“He is embarrassed and ashamed and wishes he could wind the clock back.

“Against the background of depression and the downward spiral he was in, he made an erroneous decision.”

Mr Wilson added that Osborne had moved out from the home he shared with his partner of five years, after they rowed over the court case and he was living at the tattoo removal business in Chester-le-Street which he had set up.

His financial situation is now stable because of this. He has built up a customer base and it seems he will be successful, going forward,” he added.

Chairman Peter Devere ordered Osborne to serve a 12-month community order and to repay the stolen money back to the Department for Work and Pensions.

> Now, if the defendant had been from the other side of the counter – a claimant – we’d be getting headlines about Benefit Cheats and Taxpayer’s Money.

It’s still benefits fraud, and it’s  still taxpayer’s money, but somehow it doesn’t seem to generate the same lurid headlines.

In fact its far worse, because he was in a position of responsibility and in receipt of a wage. And he stole from the worst off in society. 

Which to my mind makes him the worst kind of benefits cheat.

Source – Sunderland Echo, 21 Aug 2014

Legal aid cuts will hit justice, claims Sunderland solicitor

Legal aid cuts will stop people in Wearside from getting justice, claims a Sunderland solicitor.

Michael Robinson has hit out at a Government shake-up to cut the £2billion budget of what it calls “one of the world’s most expensive legal systems”, by slashing fees paid to barristers and lawyers.

Critics say the plans, due to be phased in from next month, will drive many out of the profession and leave defendants without expert lawyers to argue their cases.

Earlier this month, solicitors boycotted Sunderland Magistrates’ Court in protest.

Mr Robinson said: “People who don’t qualify for legal aid will have to either plead guilty to save money, or fund their own defence.

“If acquitted, those who fund their own defence will not be fully remunerated. Why should anyone have to pay to establish their innocence?

Legal aid spend, if it is too high, is so because of legislation, sentencing policy, policing policy and strategy. The Government blames lawyers, suggesting legal aid funds fat-cat lifestyles, masking its true intent. They don’t want people to challenge the State. It wants people to take a pragmatic, financial view and plead guilty.”

Source – Sunderland Echo, 22 March 2014

Labour councillor quits Sunderland City Council after benefit fraud conviction

Sunderland councillor Lisa Smiles, who was convicted of conning the local authority out of £2,000 after she failed to declare wages and her councillor’s allowance when claiming housing benefit., has resigned from both the Labour Party and the city council.

She admitted receiving £2,318 in payments she was not entitled to over a period of 12 months and was fined £150 when she appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.

The departure  leaves a vacancy in her former ward of St Anne’s , however the council was unable to give details of if and when a by-election would be held.

A spokesman for the council said: “The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Lisa Smiles.”

A Labour North spokesman said: “Councillor Lisa Smiles was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2013 following her court appearance.

“She remained on suspension pending an internal investigation into her conduct. She has now resigned from the Labour Party and Sunderland Labour Group.”

The Tories, naturally tried to spin things to their own advantage – Tory councillor Lee Martin submitted a written question to council leader Paul Watson, asking whether he thought the “overwhelming majority” of people on benefits are in genuine need and whether cheats should be punished.

The implication being of course that anyone claiming benefits must be a bit dodgy on the grounds that the occasional person defrauds the system, but on that basis you might counter that the “overwhelming majority” of councillors probably fiddle their expenses, because one or two have been caught red-handed ( wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent as opposed to the the percentage of expenses fiddled by vcarious politicians ?).

Coun Watson said: “Benefits are there to support those in need,” adding that “abusing that system is diabolical and should be punished”.

He then quoted a section of CS Lewis’ theories on crime and punishment, then referred to “the self-righted retribution that some Tories would advocate.”

Coun Watson said that punishment should be done to deter and lead by example, not to exact revenge, adding that to do so would be “psychologically sick”.

Referring to Lisa Smiles, Coun Martin said there seemed to be “one rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” His comment was drowned out by protests from Labour councillors.

“One rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” Now that’s a dangerous game for a Tory to play ! Still, when your possee of councillors is so, er, compact, that they meet in a phone box, I guess there’s nothing to lose by living dangerously 😉

Source – Sunderland Echo  04 Feb 2014