A BENEFITS cheat from Rugeley has been forced to step down as a school governor after illicitly claiming nearly £30,000, a judge heard.
Rail worker Thomas Gillan carried on pocketing widower's allowance even though he had remarried.
He failed to tell the Department of Works and Pensions about his new spouse and over a period of more than five years from July 2007 falsely claimed a total of £28,653, said Mr Paul Spratt, prosecuting.
Gillan, aged 57, of Main Road, Rugeley who admitted failing to notify a change of circumstances, was given a 12-week prison sentence suspended for a year and ordered to do 150 hours unpaid community work.
But Neill Gerrity, defending, told Stafford Crown Court that because of the conviction, Gillan has had to step down as vice-chairman of the governors at his local primary school.
Judge Mark Eades told the defendant: "It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who come before the court and say 'I didn't realise I had to report the changes'.
"You are now labelled a benefits cheat and that's something the public dislikes to a considerable degree. You are going to have to face up to your neighbours and friends with the knowledge that behind your back they'll say you are a benefits cheat.
"The amount of money here isn’t trivial - almost £30,000 - that's enough money to employ a nurse for a year."
Mr Spratt said Gillan had been legitimately receiving widower's allowance from 2005, but his entitlement ceased when he remarried. The illicit payments carried on until January this year.
When questioned, he initially maintained he thought he was entitled to the money because he was still the father of the couple's children.
Mr Gerrity told the judge: "The claim was not fraudulent from the outset. He is sorry for what he has done and has started to repay the debt." Gillan was hoping to keep his job with Network Rail.