A BENEFITS cheat walked free from court despite conning the taxpayer out of £25,000 over four years.

David Curtis claimed the benefits of a jobless man while he was working at a New Forest pub.

Southampton Magistrates’ Court heard he claimed jobseekers’ allowance, income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit despite being employed as a kitchen assistant at The Ship Inn in Fordingbridge.

Despite the value and length of his deceit passing the custody threshold, Curtis walked from court with a suspended sentence and an order to do 200 hours of community work. He was not made to pay towards court costs.

Prosecuter David Adams said Curtis began fraudulently claiming some of the benefits in 2007 and the amounts totalled £24,785.83.

The 59-year-old, of Picket Close, Fordingbridge, had previously pleaded guilty to four counts of failing to notify the authorities about his job.

The court heard that Curtis has repaid £550 to the Department of Work of Pensions at a rate of £20 per week and had been repaying about £40 a week to New Forest District Council.

Jane Hemmings, mitigating, said her client had no previous convictions and was struggling with £14,000 of credit card debt.

Magistrate Richard Dickinson said: “It is a very high amount of money that has been defrauded from the public purse over a long period of time.”

He sentenced Curtis to 12 weeks in prison for each charge, suspended for 12 months and 200 hours of unpaid work.

Mr Dickinson added: “We are not going to impose any costs at all as it is much more important that you repay the amount to the authorities.”