Northern Ireland

Derry couple jailed for £144k benefit fraud

A Londonderry man and the mother of their six children have been jailed for a £144,000 benefits fraud over a 20-year period starting in 1990.

Michael Cecil Harkin, 50, and Donna McCool, 46, both of Circular Road in the city, were jailed for eight and four months respectively.

They admitted a combined total of 11 income support, jobseeker's allowance and housing benefits frauds.

McCool's total fraud amounted to £76,800 and Harkin's totalled £67,300.

A prosecution barrister told the court that both defendants made false declarations about their marital status in order to unlawfully claim the benefits.

Sentencing the couple at Londonderry Magistrates Court, Judge Grant said no-one should be unaware of the damage their offending had caused to society.

"At this stage in history it is quite clear every penny of government money is needed," he said.

"The money taxpayers pay is used to pay for benefits to those who are rightly entitled to them. It is used to pay for hospitals, for schools and for a full range of reasons.

"When you steal this money you are not just stealing from an unidentified body, you are stealing it from your neighbours and from other members of society."

After the sentences were handed down, Harkin shouted obscenities at Judge Grant, who then told him he was in contempt of court.

Harkin was taken into custody and a short time later a court clerk announced that his eight-month jail sentence had been postponed and that he would be resentenced in Belfast on Friday.