A FORMER mayor has avoided jail after paying back more than £11,000 in disability benefits he falsely claimed.

John McGowan, 54, had just 28 days to find the cash after a confiscation order was made last month.

The former Clitheroe town councillor was made to pay £11,882 at a proceeds of crime hearing following his conviction of benefit fraud in the summer.

He was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence, which could have been activated if he had failed to pay back what he owed to the Department for Work and Pensions on time.

McGowan was caught playing golf and delivering newspapers while claiming disability allowance.

He was ordered to complete 80 hours unpaid work after failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions that his medical condition had improved.

McGowan, who served as the town's mayor for two years from 1997 and was also a Ribble Valley councillor until earlier this year, pleaded guilty to falsely claiming disability living allowance between April 2004 and September 2006.

He first claimed the allowance in May, 1992, after telling authorities he was virtually unable to walk without mobility aids and that he needed help washing and dressing on a day-to-day basis.

In 1997 he submitted a further claim stating that his condition had worsened and he now needed to use a mobility scooter.

However, the benefit helpline received a tip-off in March 2006 that he was an active Labour councillor and had also been seen carrying out a paper round.

McGowan declined to comment after the case.

However, his solicitor, David Ryan, of Forbes Solicitors, said: "My client realises that what he did was wrong which was implicit by his early guilty plea.

"It is right that he should be punished and he accepts that punishment.

"He always had every intention of paying back the money to the Department of Work and Pensions, no matter how long it took."