A MAN who claimed more than £160,000 from the government to live at a bungalow in Poole in fact spent most of his time at his French farmhouse, a court has heard.

Over the course of around a decade, Stephen Wagstaff spent much of his time living in Hauteville-sur-Mer, Normandy. However, he claimed a total of £160,613 from Poole Borough Council, as it was then called, as well as from the Department of Work and Pensions.

The 62-year-old, who suffered a serious injury to his back in an accident more than 20 years ago, has now been jailed for a year for the deception.

His wife, 66-year-old Yvonne Wagstaff, has been spared a prison sentence after being convicted of three related offences.

Brian Sharman, prosecuting the case at Bournemouth Crown Court on Monday, January 13, said Stephen Wagstaff had been "in receipt of income support and incapacity benefit", which he received from 1993 after his accident.

He claimed income support, council tax benefit, housing benefit, employment support allowance and disability living allowance as a resident of a £250,000 detached home in Darbys Lane, Oakdale.

However, in 2006, his father-in-law purchased La Grimmoniere, a French farmhouse, for £85,000. Concerned that his adult grandchildren should inherit the property, the father-in-law put the address in the Wagstaffs' names.

In the same year, Stephen Wagstaff began frequently travelling to the property. He visited so often he registered in Brittany Ferries' frequent traveller club.

Harvey Withecombe, mitigating, said the "general public" might think Wagstaff has been "living it up" on the £160,000.

"My client would describe it differently to that," he said.

"He has not been living the life of Riley out in France."

Instead, the farmhouse is in a "real mess", he said.

"When the weather is bad, you can see bits falling off the building," Mr Withecombe said.

"It's in a terrible state."

Many of Wagstaff's initial trips were to support his father-in-law, who died of Alzheimer's in 2016, it was heard.

His wife was charged with taking a significantly smaller sum – £12,971 – between 2013 and 2017.

It was heard that she plans to repay the amount at a rate of £5 a week. However, Judge Robert Pawson pointed out that the amount totals just £250 a year, adding: "It will take 50 years to pay it back.

"She is 66."

Wagstaff admitted seven counts of fraud and one of dishonestly failing to notify an authority. He was jailed for a year.

His wife admitted two counts of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain benefits, and one of failing to notify a change of circumstances. She was sentenced to three months in prison, suspended for two years.

The authorities involved have launched Proceeds of Crime Act hearings to regain the money.

  • An earlier version of this article contained information about how many days Wagstaff had spent out of the country. This information was given in court but appears to be incorrect, and has now been removed