Tory councillor George Ringrow avoids jail over Â£32,000 benefit fraud
A TRUSTED councillor has avoided jail for a Â£32,000 benefit fraud that spanned more than five years.
Sitting in the dock George Ringrow showed no emotion as judge Linda Sullivan QC handed him a four-month sentence suspended for a year.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard how 67-year-old Ringrow’s benefit fraud lasted five years and eight months.
Ringrow, who claimed pension credit while working, has now stepped down from his role as Fareham Town councillor at Hampshire County Council, triggering a by-election.
And The News understands he has quit the Conservative party, having previously been suspended.
Tom Wilkins, prosecuting, revealed how Ringrow, of Paxton Road, Fareham, claimed pension credit while also working for St John’s Ambulance as a controller and after being elected to Hampshire County Council in May 2013.
Mr Wilkins said: ‘He failed to notify that employment to the authorities.
‘Further from May 6 2013 he failed to inform the authorities of his employment, or payment, at Hampshire County Council as a councillor and those changes of circumstances and his income of those sources would have effected the extent of his benefit.
‘When questioned he said that had in fact telephoned and also written to the Department for Work and Pensions to outline his change in circumstance, although it’s right to say they have no record of those communications from the defendant.
‘In fact, there were a number of letters issued during the claim period asking to inform them if there were any further changes of circumstances and it would seem there weren’t any replies to them.’
All of the cash has since been repaired, Mr Wilkins said.
The court heard Ringrow started claiming benefit when he was unemployed but when he got a job he told Fareham Borough Council and the authority stopped his housing benefit.
He sent a letter to the Department for Work and Pensions when he got the job in July 2009 but they never received it and he did not try to tell them again despite receiving annual letters asking if there had been any changes that would affect his pension credit claim.
Ringrow pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstance between June 17, 2009 and January 4, 2015 while claiming pension credit, in that he did not tell the DWP about paid employment.
He was elected in May 2013 standing as a member of the Conservative party.
The court heard he was a trustee and chairman for Community Action Fareham and church warden at Holy Trinity Church in Fareham.
He was also a member of the Diocesan Synod and Bishops council.
But the court heard he has resigned from those positions to avoid any disciplinary action.
Daniel Reilly, defending, said: ‘They’re matters that have hit him extremely hard because it’s a black mark that flies in the face of someone who has committed himself to working hard for the benefit of others in his local community.’
Mr Reilly added Ringrow has a number of serious health conditions and had an operation to remove a cancerous lump from his throat.
Sentencing, the judge Sullivan added: ‘You say that you didn’t notice this sum of money going into your bank account.
‘At some stage you must have realised this otherwise you would not have pleaded guilty.’
But she said there was a good deal of positive things to say about him.
A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said: ‘We can confirm that George Ringrow has resigned as a county councillor.
‘A date for a by-election in the Fareham Town electoral division will be announced in due course.’
Ringrow declined to comment when approached by the The News.
He also pleaded not guilty to dishonestly making a false statement, namely that he did not tell the DWP he was receiving an occupational pension from Standard Life. His not guilty plea was accepted by prosecutors and the charge will lay on the file.