A COUPLE that cheated taxpayers of more than £100,000 in a “deliberate and callous way” escaped jail yesterday.
Amanda Casserley, 34, and Andrew Hayes, 39, both of Spring Road, Bournemouth, were told by Mr Recorder Hall that they “should be going to prison” – but he spared them because of worries about the care of their four children.
Prosecutor Nick Robinson told Bournemouth Crown Court that over more than 10 years Casserley defrauded the state of more than £106,000 in income support, council tax, housing benefit and tax credits.
He said that the benefits were claimed legitimately for around five years, but from 2003 she failed to tell the Department for Work and Pensions, which brought the prosecution, that she was no longer a lone parent and was living with Hayes, the children’s dad.
Mr Robinson said that the pair had long periods of being estranged, largely due to Hayes’ alcoholism and Asperger’s Syndrome, and that was a factor in her not informing the authorities about her change in circumstances.
A DWP investigation was launched after an anonymous tip-off.
Over five years, more than £150,000 of Hayes’ wages went into Casserley’s account, on top of her benefits.
Casserley initially tried to convince investigators that the children were not his and, in interview, Hayes said he was not Casserley’s partner and hadn’t lived with her. They were both charged and entered guilty pleas at their first court hearing.
Mr Robinson also told the court that the amount claimed by Hayes while he was earning was a further £15,258.
Susan Jones, mitigating for Hayes, said her client was a recovering alcoholic.
“He’s a hard working family man.”
She added: “The motivation behind this offence was to provide for his family.”
Ms Jones said that Hayes was “very concerned” for his children should he be jailed. One has Asperger’s also, while another is suspected to suffer from the condition.
“He’s the sole provider for four children and his partner,” she added.
Francisca da Costa, mitigating for Casserley, who sobbed in the dock, said that there were long periods of time where Hayes was away or not working because of his problems – equating to around £15,000 of the money claimed.
Sentencing the pair, Mr Recorder Hall said: “Amanda Casserley and Andrew Hayes, you are both a disgrace, that’s the only way to describe you.
“You have defrauded the state for a period of 10 years in a deliberate and callous way. While it’s fair to say you did not have a grand life defrauding the state, you had a comfortable one.”
He said that the children’s welfare was “uppermost in my mind”.
Mr Hall added: “In many ways I regret this sentence, because you should be going to prison.”
Casserley, who faced three counts in all, was given 12 months in jail, suspended for two years, as well as 180 hours of unpaid work.
Hayes, facing two separate counts, was also given 12 months, suspended for two years, and a curfew to stay at home between 7pm and 5am.
No application for a confiscation order was made and the convicted couple were not ordered to pay costs.
Series of convictions
This case is the latest fraud conviction to go through Bournemouth Crown Court.
In April a couple who claimed years of benefits while enjoying exotic holidays and expensive cars were jailed.
“Shopaholic” Nicola Rogers and husband Bryan travelled to Egypt and renewed their wedding vows in a lavish ceremony over the course of a six-year fraud, which between them reached a total of almost £69,000.
While the couple, of Poplar Way, Ringwood had initially began claiming benefits legally, as both were off work, Mr Rogers, 48, then began to work again.
An investigation by the Department of Work and Pensions and New Forest District Council revealed he was employed by three family-owned companies while continuing to claim.
Before they were sentenced at Bournemouth Crown Court, Judge John Harrow heard that even while confined to her bed through illness, Mrs Rogers had continued to spend money.