Disgraced magistrate spared prison after fiddling over £7,000 of expenses

A MAGISTRATE who was found guilty of fraud after fiddling over £7,000 of expenses has avoided being sent to jail.

Mark Cantwell, 44, was a justice based at Huddersfield Magistrates’ and Youth Court when he made false claims for loss of income while working as claims handler at the Royal Sun Alliance insurance company.

Cantwell, of New Hey Road, Huddersfield, was found guilty of four offences of fraud after a trial at Leeds Crown Court.

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The jury heard that he began working at the insurance firm in March 2007 and his contract of employment took account of his duties as a magistrate, working part-time on four days a week. Magistrates are entitled to claim for loss of earnings, known as Financial Loss Allowance, to compensate them for the times they sit. The forms, printed by Her Majesty’s Court Service (HMCS), contain a declaration of truth.

The trial heard that claims should only be made for actual loss of earnings and not if time-off for sitting is accommodated by an employer.

Cantwell falsified three letters to HMCS from Royal Sun Alliance purporting to have been signed by members of staff. He made 36 false claims over a three-year period totalling £7,175.

Cantwell later denied making false claims and told police that if he had made a mistake he was sorry and would repay any money he was found to owe.

He denied producing the letters and he was given an opportunity to provide a sample of his handwriting but declined. He was unable to say who had given him the letters other than an “unknown member of staff”.

Cantwell was given a 51-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay £7,175 in compensation to HMCS.

Judge James Spencer QC told Cantwell: “You pretended that you thought you were entitled to make these claims but that was a lie which was proved.

“You have brought shame on yourself because you have lost your position as a magistrate. You have lost your good name and you have been shown to be a fraudster.

“It is not necessary for me to implement that prison sentence immediately. You are a man with a serious illness.

“I think the disgrace that you have brought upon yourself and the prospect of repaying this money is adequate to mark this offence.”