A PENSIONER who lied about owning a share of a Spanish villa has been left destitute after housing officials axed his benefits.
Paul Murray, of Barnstaple, claimed more than £40,000 he was not entitled to in means tested benefits by failing to declare he was the part owner of a holiday home in Valencia.
He held a quarter share in the house and his name was on its title deeds even though he had never invested a penny of his own money in it.
He had lived there for only a few months before returning to Britain and has never received any financial benefit from it, Exeter Crown Court was told.
Murray, aged 69, had his housing benefit and pensions credits stopped after he was found guilty by a jury last month of failing to declare his share in the house on forms which required him to list all his assets.
He is now using the last of his savings to pay the £75 a week rent on his Housing Association home in North Devon because his total benefits are currently just £58.60 a week.
Murray, aged 69, of Bakery Row, Barnstaple, who previously lived at East Close, Witheridge, denied five offences of making false representations to claim benefits.
He was found guilty by a jury and jailed for 12 months, suspended for 18 months by Recorder Mr John Williams.
The Recorder told him he would have liked to have ordered him to do unpaid community work but poor health ruled it out.
He said: “It may feel to you that you have got off scot free and it may be members of the public will feel that too.
“This offence was deliberate from the outset. It continued for some years and the amount involved was more than £40,000. I have read references and accept that other than this offence you have led a thoroughly decent life and have now lost your good character.”
During the trial last month the jury heard of a bizarre series of events going back to 1990 when Murray and his wife Joan moved to Spain with another couple from Cullompton called Ronald and Rita Abbott.
Joan Murray became ill a few months later and she and her husband returned to Britain before they had paid their share of the £35,000 purchase price of the two storey home in Palma di Ganglia.
The Abbotts also returned home shortly afterwards but were unable to sell the house because the names of all four were on the title deeds and they lost touch with their friends.
The house remained empty and is thought to have been reclaimed by the Spanish Government, which has sold or rented it to a local family.
Murray started claiming pension credits, housing and council tax benefits and lied repeatedly on forms by failing to declare his nominal share in the house
He told the jury he did not realise he still owned any part of the house. He thought that his interest in it expired when he failed to put up his share of the money.
Mr Richard Crabb, defending, said the case has left him in a dire financial position. He said the overpayment figure of £40,696 was misleading because Murray may well have been entitled to the benefits if he had told the truth and explained he had no way of realising his secret asset.
He said: “His remaining capital is £6,000 and it is the only thing he has to get him through the next few years. He has been told he cannot have housing benefit because of his property abroad and at present his total income is £58.60 a week and his rent alone is £75 a week.
“He is extremely depressed and worried about what will happen when his capital runs out. The house is not a realisable asset. Nobody knows what the house is worth or whether it could be sold.
“There is anecdotal evidence of a Spanish family living there and the local authorities may well have deemed it to be abandoned because nobody in this country has had anything to do with it since 1991.
“It has been suggested he simply signs a disclaimer and that may be his only option.”