'The family planned a trip in October 2011 to the Hajj pilgrimage having embraced religion, to ask God for forgiveness. That had to be cancelled because their passports were seized.'For those who have not read the story (Mail, so usual caveats apply), two brothers and their wives spent 15 years indulging in a version of what, in the days when I worked in a Housing Benefit department, was known as the Camellia Avenue scam.
This was operating virtually wholesale along a particular road in town; homeowners and tenants nominally swapped houses, grown offspring or - occasionally - wives in order to claim the maximum housing benefit payments on offer, while the council inspectors did their best to disentangle the whole sorry business.
No matter how many were caught, the claims kept on coming in, swearing blind that No. 34's 16-year-old son was paying sky-high rent for a room at No. 42, while No. 42's teenage daughter claimed housing benefit for a bedsit ten feet away at No. 44, despite actually living with her boyfriend at No. 26.
And the inspectors worked tirelessly to bring them all to justice, with regular dawn stake-outs and relentless enquiries. Most bogus claims were identified within a matter of months; might so many years of unchecked activity suggest undue reticence in this case on the part of those charged with detecting such frauds?
The two couples involved in this case - with their 11 children - clocked up an impressive £314,452.25 in benefit payments:
'Each couple swapped houses and made claims for housing benefit and income support,' Mark Himsworth, prosecuting, said. [...] 'It went on for a long time an.d there was a great deal of manifest dishonesty.'So far, so cut and dried. The crime was detected - eventually - and restitution has been made, and so we come to the question of mitigation and a bizarre intrusion into the proceedings of something that should be a personal matter irrelevant to the judicial process.
This is a case of financial fraud, pure and simple. Why, then, should 'asking God for forgiveness' come into it? These people were prepared to lie, cheat and steal - which casts some doubt on the 'fervent' religion of Ahmed's wife (as does her prior conviction for fraud) - but divine forgiveness is surely a matter between them and their deity of choice.
Whatever the religious beliefs of defendants, they surely have no place being wheeled out in the hope of eliciting sympathy or favourable opinion from an objective judiciary.