A BENEFITS worker diverted more than £10,000 of public money into her own pocket by pretending to be other people, a court heard.

Debra Lee, of Old Lane, Shawforth, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by abuse of position and another count of attempted fraud after she was arrested on April 12, 2018 for stealing from the public purse while working as an income support processor in Burnley.

At a sentencing in Burnley, the crown court heard how Lee hijacked the identities of 19 genuine benefit claimants between 2017 and her arrest last year.

She made fraudulent claims, diverting £10,003.18 of income support payments into five of her personal bank accounts.

She had also attempted to commit another act of fraud in the sum of £1,302.05 between September and November 2017.

Prosecuting, Jane Dagnall explained that Lee had been very highly thought of in her role and had a huge level of trust placed in her.

She said: "Information was provided to her bosses that she had received such payments and as a result an internal investigation was carried out.

"She made fraudulent claims from genuine people for money that they weren't entitled to and hijacked their identities to obtain the money."

A search of Lee's home and place of work was carried out, during which, police found a file containing details of all the fraudulent claims.

Upon her arrest she was frank in her admittance and explained she was in a lot of debt and was struggling to cope.

Miss Dagnall said the offence was sophisticated and planned, although she had not actually deprived anyone of money they were entitled to.

In mitigation, barrister Kristian Cavanagh asked for leniency, explaining that Lee had no previous convictions, was a woman of good character and presented as someone who was remorseful and full of shame about the way she acted.

He explained she had taken steps to address her debts by contacting a debt management company and had also secured alternative employment.

Passing sentence, Judge Sara Dodd said: "You stole money by hijacking the identity of 19 legitimate claimants.

"Only your early guilty pleas and your remorse allows me to deviate from a custodial sentence."

Lee was given eight months in prison suspended for 16 months, ordered to carry out 25 days of rehabilitation activity and100 hours of unpaid work, and was handed a three-month curfew.