An Armed Forces veteran who pocketed more than £61,500 in a benefits scam in Daventry has avoided an immediate prison sentence.
Michael Sherratt, 70, gave service to the Parachute Regiment early in his working life, and was later attached to both the Royal Corps of Transport and the Ulster Defence Regiment.
However, he turned to benefit fraud after the lives of he and his wife were turned “completely topsy turvy” following a serious motorcycle crash. Both were injured in an accident which occurred in Italy during the 1990s, with Sherratt losing an arm due to medical problems which developed years later as a result.
The couple got into debt and started to claim pension and council tax credit, and also housing benefit.
Initially this was paid legitimately, but Sherratt found himself on the wrong side of the law when he failed to tell the authorities that his wife was working. This would have dramatically affected the payments he received.
Over nine years, between 2005 and 2014, Sherratt was overpaid to the tune of £61,537.99 by Department for Work and Pensions and Daventry District Council.
He admitted three charges of failing to notify the relevant authorities of a change in personal circumstances.
And at Carlisle Crown Court today, Sherratt was given a six-month jail sentence, which was suspended for two years.
Jacob Dyer, prosecuting, said Sherratt’s claims to both the Department for Work and Pensions and Daventry District Council had not been fraudulent from the start.
But this situation changed as his wife became employed over time by a number of different companies and organisations.
Among her employers were Carewatch, Tesco and South Staffordshire Primary Care Trust.
“She was working pretty much throughout the period,” said Mr. Dyer. “Many of these weeks she has been working full-time and earning several hundred pounds a week.”
Sherratt was interviewed by investigators when the offences came to light and said they gave away her wages. “He suggested they paid it all into charities for the Armed Forces and they themselves hadn’t benefited from anything,” said Mr. Dyer.
“He said he persuaded his wife to go out to work. He wanted to help wounded soldiers. He eventually seemed to accept that the reason he hadn’t told anybody (about the crime) was because he was scared his benefits might be stopped if he reported the income of his wife. He admitted he was dishonest.”
Sherratt, a man with no previous convictions, wore a jacket in the dock which commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Second World War “Operation Market Garden”.
Greg Hoare, defending, confirmed the couple’s lives went “completely topsy turvy” after the motorcycle crash, adding: “They went from being in a reasonable financial position to significantly in debt.”
Sherratt had “buried his head in the sand” having started to fraudulently claim benefits.
“Whilst it seems a large amount of money now, over a period of time it was used to maintain the modest lifestyle that they had,” said Mr. Hoare. “It was a substantial misjudgement on his part.
“He has lost that element that has been precious to him, no doubt for people in his position - a hard-earned reputation.”
Recorder John Corless told Sherratt, of Winskill, near Penrith, Cumbria, that he had committed serious offences.
“It is clear to me that you knew full well that your wife should not have been working when you were claiming the benefits that you were. This will be a stain on your character.”
Of the suspended sentence, the Recorder added: “I will make that stand alone. You, standing in the dock today, realise what you have done, and you will pay the penalty with the loss of your reputation.”