Hartlepool mum spared jail for £90k swindle just days after crackdown on benefits cheats announced

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A mum was spared jail for a £90,000 swindle just days after a tough crackdown was announced for people who cheat the public purse.

The country’s top prosecutor Keir Starmer said this week that benefits cheats would face up to ten years in jail in the most serious cases.

Yet the guidelines given to courts rarely - if ever - reach that sort of level, a judge said yesterday (Thursday, September 19) as he let Lisa Liveras-Lister walk free.

The 46-year-old was told that her con attracted a sentence with a starting point of nine months after a trial, according to the guidance.

Judge Howard Crowson - for the second time this week - referred to the clampdown heralded by the Director of Public Prosecutions on Tuesday.

He expressed bewilderment that the Government lays down the guidance and at the same time is saying sentences should be more harsh.

“I have dealt with a number of benefit fraud cases this week, but they are all factually different,” he said at Teesside Crown Court yesterday.

“Sometimes, they are run-through like a stick of rock with greed from the outset, with a completely fraudulent claim.

“The guidelines don’t sit well with recent press comments.”

The court heard that Liveras-Lister, then a mother-of-two, initially claimed bereavement benefit in 1997 after the death of her husband, and then also tax credits as a single person from 2003.

An investigation showed she continued to seek benefits despite starting a new relationship, living with the man and having a further two children.

Liveras-Lister, of Blaise Garden Village, Hartlepool, picked up a total of £92,772 to which she was not entitled up until last year.

Her barrister, Bob Spragg, told the court that she immediately paid the money back in October by taking out a mortgage against her home.

Judge Crowson imposed a six-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, with 120 hours of unpaid community work, after she admitted five charges of fraud.

After reading 12 “excellent” references, he said: “This is not my usual approach to benefit cases. Yours seems to me to be a very unusual one.

“The tragedy which led to you being given benefit in the first place is something you still suffer with. The people who have taken the trouble to write about you continue to be sympathetic and worry about you.

“What’s almost unique in my experience in benefit cases is that you have repaid the whole sum, but not from assets, and you will effectively continue to pay that for many years.”