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Father who claimed £15k benefits because he was too depressed to work caught out by Facebook holiday snaps

Mirror logo Mirror 20/03/2017

Credits: FACEBOOK

Credits: FACEBOOK
© Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc

A shameless benefits cheat who pocketed over £15,000 by claiming he was too depressed and "anxious" to work has been exposed in holiday snaps chronicling his globe-trotting exploits.

But Stephen Astbury has avoided a jail sentence.

Saying he was unable to get a job due to a "split personality disorder", Astbury, 32, was able to claim Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit over a two-year period.

But the father-of-five was unmasked as a cheat after investigators checked his Facebook page where photos showed him sat on a jet-ski, snorkeling, posing with two parrots, ski-ing and larking about in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Officials from the Department of Work and Pensions examined his social media account and established Astbury was also involved in the construction and scrap metal trade.

Further pictures showing him smiling behind the wheel of a string of vehicles including a quad bike, scrambling bikes and a JCB digger.

At Blackburn magistrates court in Lancashire, Astbury, of nearby Great Harwood, admitted benefit fraud charges.

But he avoided jail after telling JPs he had narrowly survived a road smash on the M66 near Bury in which his lawyer claimed there was a "90% chance" he could have lost his life.

A string of holiday photos which were posted on Astbury's Facebook page during the period he fraudulently claimed benefits between March 2013 and September 2015 were not used in evidence during the hearing.

Earlier 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."

She added: "He had begun collecting ESA in June 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.

Credits: FACEBOOK © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: FACEBOOK Credits: FACEBOOK © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: FACEBOOK

"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 give 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."

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