Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 11:40 UK

Benefit fraud linesman sentenced

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Keith McNiffe was secretly filmed by the Department of Work and Pensions

A football referee and linesman who officiated in 67 matches while claiming mobility and care allowances has been given a suspended jail term.

Keith McNiffe, 49, who earlier this year stood aside as mayor of Pembroke, must repay 9,223 and also carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work.

Haverfordwest magistrates heard he was twice secretly filmed as a linesman.

He had admitted two charges of failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions of a change in circumstances.

Prosecuting, Alex Ferguson told the court that McNiffe had been claiming both mobility and care allowances at the highest rate since 2002.

Between 2005 and 2007 he had officiated in 67 matches.

Mr Ferguson said on two occasions in 2007 he was secretly filmed by DWP investigators "running up and down the sidelines of the pitch while acting as a linesman."

Keith McNiffe
Keith McNiffe stood down as town mayor in Pembroke. Photo: Creative Looks

He said McNiffe had also passed a Football Association of Wales fitness assessment.

In mitigation, Shaun Dyer said that the information given by McNiffe in 2002 to DWP was correct.

He said following an operation in 2005 McNiffe had been advised by his doctor to "increase his exercise regime" as his weight had ballooned by 12 stone.

He said McNiffe had undertaken officiating duties as his only form of exercise but now accepted that he should have notified officials of his change in circumstances.

He said McNiffe had stood down as the mayor of Pembroke and the case had brought widespread media coverage that had meant he had lost his position of trust within the community.

Yellow card

Magistrates said they were satisfied McNiffe had deliberately failed to advise the DWP of the change in his circumstances and that the offence was so serious only a prison sentence was appropriate.

He was sentenced to four months in prison suspended for 18 months.

Speaking after the hearing, Brian Evans, Wales fraud manager for the DWP, said the sentence gave a clear message to people illegally claiming benefit that "it's not right and when we do catch you, you could end up in court like Mr McNiffe did today".

He likened the sentence to a yellow card and said if McNiffe was brought before the courts again he faced an immediate custodial sentence.

McNiffe left Haverfordwest magistrates court without commenting.




SEE ALSO
Benefit fraud football ref guilty
21 Apr 08 |  South West Wales

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