South Shields fraudster 'cheats system' by using false identity to claim almost £100,000 in benefits

A fraudster who claimed almost £100,000 in benefits by using a false identity for five years has admitted fraud.

Stephen Bellas, 50, has admitted six counts of fraud dating back to February 2013 after being found to have claimed benefits under two different names.

Stephen Bellas, shown here on CCTV at South Shields Job Centre, will be sentenced in February.

Stephen Bellas, shown here on CCTV at South Shields Job Centre, will be sentenced in February.

As part of a long-running investigation in conjunction with the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), police finally snared Bellas, who was registered to addresses in South Shields and Newbiggin under different identities.

Bellas, who now lives in South Shields, initially refuted any wrongdoing, but pleaded guilty in December on the day of his trial to all offences at Newcastle Crown Court. He is due to be sentenced next month.

Detective Constable Emma Martin, of Northumbria Police, said: “Bellas repeatedly and knowingly manipulated the benefits system over a sustained period of time for his own selfish gain.

“Over a number of years, he received a significant amount of money unlawfully in benefits. He thought he was above the law and believed he would never be caught by police.

Bellas was seen days before his arrest at South Shields Job Centre attending Foley's appointment. Picture: Northumbria Police.

Bellas was seen days before his arrest at South Shields Job Centre attending Foley's appointment. Picture: Northumbria Police.

“Throughout this investigation, he has shown a complete disregard for the law and shown little sign of remorse. He only admitted his guilt at the 11th hour under the mounting weight of evidence against him."

“However, his deceit has now been laid bare and he must live with the consequences of his dishonest actions.

“I hope this sends out a clear message to anybody involved in fraudulent activity across Northumbria; you will be pursued, you will be caught and you will be brought to justice.”

Bellas initially came to the attention of police in 2010 following his arrest in connection with an attempted burglary in Gateshead.

However, while on bail, police say he "dropped off the face of the Earth" before being arrested in February 2016 for breaching his bail conditions.

Upon arrest, he was found to be in possession of a bank card in the name of Peter Foley, who he claimed was a family member.

Initial inquiries were made into Foley, but he could not be traced and no action taken as a result.

Bellas went on to receive a 12-month suspended sentence in court after pleading guilty to the attempted burglary.

A short time later, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contacted police and made their own enquiries into Bellas, who they suspected was claiming benefits using two different identities.

In February 2013, using his Foley alias, Bellas presented himself to the DWP in London and successfully applied for a national insurance number and disability benefits.

He continued to claim employment and disability benefits in the London area under the name Foley until he moved up to Sunderland in 2015.

In February 2016, Bellas also started claiming benefits mirroring those under the name of Foley.

Police soon discovered that numerous calls had been made to them by Bellas and Foley, who shared the same telephone number but had never been seen at the same place at the same time.

Following a two-year investigation alongside the DWP, warrants were executed at an address in South Shields and an address in Newbiggin in November 2018 where various documentation and medication were discovered under both names.

Bellas was arrested and charged with six counts of fraud, but pleaded his innocence and claimed police would be “embarrassed” when he and Foley both attended court.

However, the fabricated Foley did not attend and Bellas was subsequently remanded in custody.

On December 19, 2018 Bellas, of Mozart Street, South Shields, admitted six counts of fraud by false representation.

His fraudulent activity between 2013 and 2018 totalled £97,682.07, comprising of claims of £27,646.47 in housing allowance, £35,298.60 in Jobseekers’ Allowance and £34,737 in personal independence payments.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like this show how we are catching those who cheat the system and divert taxpayers' money from the people who need it.

“We are determined to catch those we suspect of fraudulently claiming benefits by following up on tip-offs, undertaking surveillance and working with local councils.”

Bellas is due to be sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court on February 4.