Kenneth Eastwood, 63 – described as ‘utterly dishonest’ by Teesside’s top judge – was overpaid £25,486 in benefits over four years. The judge did not believe Eastwood’s account that his wife saved up a suitcase of money without his knowledge.
A widower who claimed more than £25,000 in benefits after banking a suitcase of cash left by his late wife has avoided jail.
Kenneth Eastwood, 63 – described as ‘utterly dishonest’ by Teesside’s top judge – was overpaid £25,486 in benefits over four years.
The judge did not believe Eastwood’s account that his wife, who had suffered a large stroke, saved up a suitcase of money without his knowledge.
Eastwood fraudulently claimed £12,772 in jobseeker’s allowance and £12,714 in housing benefit between September 2014 and September 2018.
Prosecutor Shaun Dryden told Teesside Crown Court yesterday: ‘The total loss is just shy of £25,000.
‘The defendant in fact had a large amount of savings which he didn’t disclose.’
Eastwood claimed he only had £4,300 in savings, well below the £6,000 limit for money affecting benefits.
But Mr Dryden said: ‘In fact he had £48,429 in four accounts.’
Eastwood said his wife died in April 2013 and six months later he discovered a suitcase full of cash which she had saved from her benefits.
He said he took the £36,000 to the bank and it was deposited, but he did not regard it as his money.
His banking history showed he had made transactions and transferred large amounts of money.
Mr Dryden said: ‘After a fairly lengthy interview, the defendant conceded he had been acting dishonestly.
‘He hadn’t disclosed he had that cash to the benefits agency because he simply wanted to hold on to it.’
Eastwood, of Hebburn Road, Stockton, admitted four charges of fraud, his first ever conviction.
He has now repaid the housing benefit in full and his lawyer said he could pay another £7,000.
His banking history showed he had made transactions and transferred large amounts of money
Stephen Constantine, defending, said Eastwood was unsophisticated and described as ‘capable of becoming quite confused’.
He said Eastwood’s wife had suffered a ‘huge stroke’ shortly after their marriage, could not look after herself and he was her sole carer for the best part of 20 years.
Mr Constantine said: ‘It would appear Mrs Eastwood deposited the money into a suitcase.’
Mr Constantine said when Eastwood found the money after her death, he took it to the bank saying ‘it was her money, not mine’.
He said Eastwood did not fully understand what happened at the bank as he was told the money had to go in his name.
Eastwood went on to pay ‘various sums to various people’, including large amounts to relatives, said Mr Constantine.
Asking the judge to show mercy, Mr Constantine said: ‘The monies were dissipated.
‘He has a real fear that he could be sent to prison. He knows the difference between right and wrong.
‘He’s described as somebody who shows no evidence of living a lavish lifestyle. He tells me he lives a very simple life.’
Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, told Eastwood: ‘Sadly your wife died in 2013.
‘For many years you were her carer and looked after her. I’ve taken that into account.
‘But when she died you claimed, unbeknownst to you, she’d put away in a suitcase a large sum of money.
‘I’m not prepared to accept that for one moment. Not for one moment do I accept you were unaware she had that money.
‘It was yours. To claim otherwise is completely dishonest by you. You took it to the bank for your own benefit. You used it as you wished to do so.
‘To the probation officer you came across as confused, or in my judgment, utterly dishonest.
‘This was a determined premeditated fraud on the revenue over a period of four years.’
Considering his age, previous good character and repayment, he gave Eastwood a 10-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with 20 days rehabilitation activity.