No jail for man who collected deceased father's pension

A Dubliner who continued to claim his father's pension years after elderly man died has avoided a jail sentence today.

The theft was discovered when Government inspectors called to the late John Wilds' house in 2008 to see how he wished to receive his presidential bonus, ahead of what would have been his 100th birthday.

They discovered that Mr Wilds had died 11 years earlier, aged in his late 80s.

Today, his son Richard Wilds (aged 69) pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to samples of 41 counts of theft on dates between October 1, 2007 and November 8, 2008.

Wilds, of Fortlawn Park, Clonsilla, told gardaí that he had been collecting his father's pension for 11 years since his death.

The total sum of the deceased’s pension collected by his son during this period amounted to €10,196.

The court heard that because An Post does not retain social welfare records for longer than 15 months, the Director of Public Prosecution could only press charges for a sample period.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring gave Wilds a two-and-a-half year sentence, but suspended it in full.

She noted that a year after his father's death, Wilds had voluntarily stopped his own receipt of Jobseekers' allowance.

“He wasn't collecting on the double,” she said, but added that his theft has caused others in need of social welfare to suffer.

She singled out the case of carers who make do with a meagre allowance, noting that Wilds had looked after his elderly father before his death.

Garda James Buckley told Maurice Coffey BL, prosecuting, that Wilds had been authorised to collect a weekly pension on his father's behalf because Mr Wilds Senior was ill.

Wilds told gardaí he believed he was entitled to continue collecting the pension for three months after his father's death.

When he discovered this was not the case, Wilds knew he was in trouble and so he just kept doing it.

He was long-term unemployed and had been on Jobseekers' Allowance, but he stopped getting this at his own request in November 1998.

The court heard that during the 13-month period in question, Wilds would have been entitled to about €8,000 in Jobseeker's allowance which he did not claim.

He was thus about €50 a week better off by claiming his father's pension.

Colm O'Briain BL, defending, said his client realised early on that he was not allowed to claim his late father's pension as he had initially believed.

Wilds told gardaí: “I couldn't find a way out of it, so I just continued to do it.”

Mr O'Briain pointed out that Wilds had forgone his Jobseeker's Allowance and also his own old age pension which he would have been entitled to for a number of years.

He said Wilds began claiming his non-contributory pension two years ago, getting about €194 a week.

The court heard that Wilds has a long-term partner of 40 years and two adult children who support him.

He offered to pay €2,500 to the Department of Social Protection which he has been putting by in a savings account.

Garda Buckley agreed that Wilds lives in a local authority house with no evidence of a lavish lifestyle or excessive spending.

He has two previous convictions dating back to 1972 and 1969, including one for larceny.

He served previously in the Defence Forces and also worked in a shoe factory and as a driver before falling into long-term unemployment in the 1980s.

He has suffered from difficulties with skin cancer for 20 years.

Judge Ring told gardaí to contact the Department of Social Protection to see if they wished to accept Wilds’ offer of compensation.

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