Lancashire TelegraphStudent cleared in East Lancs benefits scam (From Lancashire Telegraph)

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Student cleared in East Lancs benefits scam

A 21-year-old woman said to have been part of a £27,000 nationwide benefits scam, has been cleared of any involvement.

Lucy Gakunga, of Ryland Road, Erdington, Birmingham, was found not guilty of conspiracy to defraud by a jury after a nine-day trial at Burnley Crown Court. She was also accused of an alternative allegation of converting criminal property. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on that allegation and was discharged by Judge Robert Altham.

Prosecutor Kevin Slack offered no further evidence against student Gakunga, whose alleged role in the operation, he said, had been at the very bottom.

Mr Slack said it would not be in the public interest to have a retrial. The judge recorded a not guilty verdict on the money laundering charge. The case against her is now over and she was discharged from the dock.

Shakeel Butt, 27, of Lambeth Street, Blackburn, was on Thursday convicted of the conspiracy charge by the jury, on the eighth day of the trial.

Butt, who claimed he had never heard of the Department for Work and Pensions, even though he was on benefits, has been remanded in custody and Judge Altham said custody was almost inevitable.The court has heard how pensioners were cheated out of payments by benefits official Vajid Ashraf, who siphoned the money into a web of bank accounts. Ashraf, 33, of Cumberland Avenue, Burnley, who worked at the Pensions Centre in Simonstone at the time, has admitted conspiracy to defraud.

Ashraf, Butt and several others involved in the total £91,000 fraud are now awaiting sentence. The case will be mentioned at the court on March 22. Four defendants have already been dealt with by the lower courts over their involvement.

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