'Gambling addict' who turned to benefit fraud handed suspended sentence

Court image.
Court image.

Gambling addict William Hill, who turned to benefit fraud because of mounting debts due to this and other addictions, was today (Thursday) freed when his nine-month jail term was suspended for a year.

Judge Geoffrey Miller QC told Hill that it was a misnomer to regard benefit fraud as a victimless crime, particularly in times of austerity and cut backs.

It was also, added the Belfast Crown Court judge, a slight to those legitimately making benefit claims and against those in employment and paying their taxes.

However, Judge Miller said that Hill had begun by making legitimate claims, but they subsequently became illegal and criminal.

In all 41-year-old Hill from Ederny Walk in Carrickfergus pleaded guilty to seven charges involving failure to declare a change of circumstances and making false benefit claims on differing dates between March 2011 and September 2014.

Prosecution lawyer Stephen McCourt said that when questioned, after authorites learned of his fraud, he immediately admitted his guilt, claiming he was "forced into a corner" after getting into debt through his gambling, taking drugs and drink.

Mr McCourt said that over the years Hill was overpaid £21,000 in job seekers allowance, employment suppliment and rates, while at the sametime working in a leisure centre and for a recruitment company.

Defence barrister JonPaul Shields said a remorseful Hill, who had a good employment record until then, got into significant difficulties in relation to his gambling and other addictions.

Hill, added Mr Shields had confessed when approached by the authorites, and had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, an indication that he fully accepted his wrong doing and genuine remorse.