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'Breathtaking' welfare cheat claimed €248,000 in benefits

THE man behind one of the biggest social-welfare frauds in the history of the State was jailed yesterday after claiming €248,000 under nine different names.

Paul Murray (63), of no fixed abode, was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years at Mullingar Circuit Court for offences described as "audacious and breathtaking".

His fraud is understood to be the biggest recorded in the past 30 years.

Murray, who is originally from Dublin but lived in Thailand while carrying out the fraud, continued taking the money -- despite warnings the authorities were on to him -- because he thought he "was immune", the judge said.

Judge Anthony Kennedy imposed a six-month sentence for each of 25 sample theft charges before the court and a concurrent sentence of three years for possession of a false passport.

He said Murray had "shamelessly cheated the system" with "dizzying execution and control, never making a mistake" in a "planned, premeditated campaign". The judge commended gardai and social-welfare staff for their investigation.

In his seven bank accounts, only €11,000 remains of the money which Murray used to fund international travel.

The court heard he also received a €37,000 inheritance while he was lodging fake claims between 2002 and 2010.

He emigrated in 1974 and hasn't lived in Ireland for 37 years. He moved to Thailand but returning to Ireland every three months to claim jobseeker's allowance. He also fraudulently claimed disability and supplementary welfare allowances, all in a number of border and midland counties.

Murray initially claimed disability allowance in 2005 when he was diagnosed with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. But the court heard when he saw how easy it was to access the system, he used false documents to make further claims. Caught

Murray was caught when his brother Patrick in Australia innocently applied for a passport which Paul had already taken out in his name.

This tipped off passport officials who contacted the Department of Social Protection.

Despite being warned he would be in trouble, Murray returned home to sign on in Cavan on October 19 last, where Det Gda Peter Kelly was waiting for him. "You've caught me red-handed," he told the officer.

Murray showed him where around 50 supporting documents, many of them false, were hidden in a box under the driver's seat of his van.

He went on to cooperate fully with the investigation, which ran to six volumes of evidence and more than 100 pages of interviews. Murray served time in the UK in 1994 for similar offences there to the total of £30,000. Giving evidence, Murray did not indicate any remorse for the cost to the State, but said he had shamed his family and regretted that. He said he came back to Ireland despite the warning about his passport application because he "didn't believe (he) would be caught".

Murray's own legitimate disability application became invalid when he was no longer resident in the State. At one point Judge Kennedy stopped technical evidence to say he needed "eyes in the back of (his) head" to keep up with what he called a "multifaceted fraudster". "He thought he was immune," the judge added.

Judge Kennedy noted there was no plan to return the money and refused leave to appeal the severity of the sentence.

Irish Independent