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North-east mother avoids jail after fraudulently claiming £25,000 in benefits

Janette Binnie
Janette Binnie

The mother of a fallen north-east soldier has apologised for claiming £25,000 in benefits while under a “cloud” of grief.

Janette Binnie fraudulently claimed employment support allowance over a four-year period.

The 48-year-old made the claims while living near Fraserburgh with her husband Alan, who was working at the time – meaning she was not entitled to the support.

But last night, she said she had not realised she had been doing anything wrong, as she had been struggling to cope with the death of her son Sean, who was killed in action in Afghanistan.

She said that since the Black Watch soldier died in 2009, aged just 22, she hadn’t had “the comprehension” to deal with day-to-day life.

Wheelchair-bound Binnie, of 33 The Corse, Crimond, previously admitted fraudulently claiming £25,016.60 between June 6, 2012 and January 27 from the Department of Work and Pensions this year.

At Peterhead Sheriff Court yesterday, she was put on a 250-hour community payback order which she must complete in 18 months.

Sheriff Andrew Miller told her that it was only because of her family’s tragic circumstances, and her own medical requirements, that he would spare her a jail sentence.

Last night, Binnie apologised for her crime and said: “The thought I’ve let my son down, that I’ve dishonoured him was hard. So many things happen when you lose a child, and I don’t have any real, close family members.

“Alan is my best friend, so it just felt normal to be here and with him.

“I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong – I just didn’t keep on top of paperwork, to be honest. But it’s done now, and I’ve been punished.”

Sean, an acting sergeant of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment, was killed instantly in May 2009 when he was shot in the chest near Musa Qala in the Helmand region of the country.

He had been rushing to the aid of two local soldiers who were pinned down by enemy fire.

Since his death, Binnie has dedicated her life to the memory of her son, who was laid to rest in Belfast near his widow’s home.

After admitting the offence last month and speaking to social workers, the grieving mum and her family have been put in touch with Cruse Bereavement Care, which supports military families.

“I have been living in a cloud for the last seven years,” she added.

“I wasn’t reading correspondence. I’ve spent the majority of my time in Belfast to be at Sean’s grave, but obviously out of this will come something good.

“I’m going to get the support I need to deal with his death and to deal with life without him.”

During the court hearing, Sheriff Miller had said if it were not for the effect of Sean’s death, and her list of medical problems which would make her “vulnerable” in custody, a crime of Ms Binnie’s type would normally result in a prison term.

However, he said he was “satisfied” the community payback order was just and described it as an “unusual” case.

A report from Ms Binnie’s local GP confirmed to the court that she suffers from lower back pain, anxiety and functional neurological symptoms including the inability to walk at times.

Branding her son’s death as a “tragedy”, Sheriff Miller added: “Its enduring impact on your ability to deal with day-to-day tasks have indeed contributed in some way to the commission of the offence.

“The length of the order will serve as a reminded of your actions in this serious offence.”

Defence agent Leonard Burkinshaw said the loss of Sean had “not done anything” for his mum.

“I think she speaks eloquently in becoming obsessed by it,” he said.

“It has effectively taken over her life for the last couple of years.”

The DWP is being paid back the money it is owned by making deductions to Ms Binnie’s current benefit package.