Benefit Cheat wins appeal to allow her to ‘enjoy the summer’

The BBC reported the appeal of Kelly McLean against her sentence on 5th July 2013. It was a relatively light hearted report (in the sense of ‘those judges are bonkers’ type of pieces) – a flavour can be gleaned from the headline “Judges tell benefits cheat Kelly McLean ‘enjoy the summer’ – A benefits cheat who falsely claimed £10,000 has had her electronic tag removed early so she can enjoy summer evenings outdoors with her children. According to the BBC report, Ms McLean, who was legitimately claiming benefits, failed to tell the DWP that she had inherited some money from her mother which would have made her ineligble for Income Support. She pleaded guilty, paid back the £10,000 that she had wrongly claimed, and was sentenced to a 6 month Community Order with a Curfew from 7am to 7pm. So. Was the Court of Appeal hit by a wave of sentimentality that caused them to throw out the rulebook, or was there something else here? Turning to the Law reports (Westlaw – a paid for service unfortunately, so I can’t link to it) it seems that Ms McLean did not plead guilty to the ‘usual’ offence of benefit fraud, but a lesser one. This is an important distinction as dishonesty is not part of the offence and, therefore, the maximum sentence is a lot lower (3 months). The relevant guidelines are the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines. Turning to page 96, we can see that the offence has many of the mitigating features and the correct sentence (allowing for a guilty plea) would be a low to middle range Community Order. It is clear that the sentence passed by the Judge when he dealt with Ms McLean in the Crown Court was too high and the Court of Appeal were right to do what they do – replace the six month Curfew Order with a three month one. Did the Judges say anything about enjoying the summer? Well, it’s not clear from the Law Report summary and we will have to wait until we get the transcript of the judgment, but I’d be surprised if the advent of summer caused the Judges to lose their minds…

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