Civil servant jailed for stealing £55,000 benefit arrears

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A former civil servant who transferred over £50,000 in benefits arrears from three vulnerable adults into her own account has received a sentence of 15 months.

Abigail McClelland, of Ivy Mead, pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position and transferring criminal property.

The offences occurred between September 2009 and January 2011 when the 34-year-old was employed as an administrative officer by the Department of Work and Pensions.

Derry Crown Court heard a total of £55,000 was transferred by McClelland into a joint account she held with her husband, instead of to three vulnerable adults that were owed income support arrears.

The money was used by her to pay off mortgage and rates arrears and a secured loan. It was also used to buy cars, white goods, decorating and general spending.

McClelland resigned from her post in October 2011 while an investigation was being conducted into the irregular payments.

She was later interviewed by police and said she took the money because of “financial difficulties”.

The 34-year-old’s husband, who she separated from in 2010, was also investigated by police, however a prosecution was not directed against him.

It was revealed to the court McClelland’s parents liquidated their savings to pay back the £55,000 to the Department of Work and Pensions.

Passing sentence, Judge Piers Grant said McClelland was in a “position of considerable trust” and she had breached this to use the money “to your own benefit”.

He said the mother of two had “stole money well in excess of the debts you had at the material time. This is indicative of greed upon your behalf and a preparedness to take the money and fritter it away”.

Judge Grant accepted that any sentence he imposed would have an effect on the 34-year-old’s children but added she had committed the offences “in full knowledge” it would have an effect on them and this was “in many respects a betrayal of your children”.

He told the court that “people who commit offences of this sort are going to suffer the consequences” and “there must be a custodial sentence in this case”.

McClelland received a determinate sentence of 15 months, three months of which will be spent in custody with the remaining 12 months on licence.