Lowestoft: Benefit cheat avoids imprisonment

A Suffolk man who fraudulently claimed �25,499 in employment benefit over a period of five years has been spared an immediate jail term.

Christopher Simpson, of Spexhall, near Halesworth, claimed he was unemployed despite running a Lowestoft nightspot between 2002 and 2008.

The 45-year-old was caught up with after being investigated for abstracting electricity at the Crown Hotel, High Street.

At Ipswich Crown Court yesterday, Simpson was handed a 10 month prison sentence, suspended for one year, and ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work.

Judge David Goodin said his offence “comfortably crossed the custody threshold,” but acknowledged Simpson’s admission of guilt earlier this month.

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Prosecutor Robert Morris had told Judge Goodin of the “substantial” amount of evidence which proved Simpson was gainfully employed while claiming income support, including food hygiene inspections and connections with the local police nightsafe scheme. Eight former employees then confirmed that they worked at the pub while he was in charge.

Simpson even produced three witness statements, in which he was referred to as the manager, concerning incidents of violence at the Crown during his tenure. He also declared the managerial position on his CV, which investigators used as evidence against him.

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In credit applications, he claimed annual earnings of �32,000 and business profits of �75,000, but still Simpson claimed he was jobless.

Following his arrest, Simpson firmly denied the offence, even claiming that police had manipulated witnesses. He maintained his innocence until five days before he was due to stand trial, on March 7 this year.

Grant Vanstone, defending, said Simpson’s business had been “clearly in decline”, following the withdrawal of electrical services due to non-payment of bills.

Mr Vanstone produced testimonials from Simpson’s current and former employers - both vehicle dealerships - and from his own parents, in which he was described as “a hard working man who is able to provide good service to those around him”.

In sentencing Simpson, Judge Goodin said: “Many people will say you richly deserve to go to prison. You had many opportunities, which you turned down, to come clean or at least desist the activity with which you persisted.

“You pleaded guilty rather late in the day, but you did plead guilty - although not before you claimed people had told lies about you. That is one of the least attractive parts of this case.’’

Simpson will be subject to a year-long suspension of a 10 month jail term, must carry out 250 hours of unpaid work and pay the court �400 in costs.

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