A WEDDING photographer has been jailed for fiddling more than £80,000 in benefits by pretending he was too ill to work.

Steven Monk, 50, claimed incapacity benefit for nine years, during which he was hard at work taking wedding snaps and pictures for a string of Somerset papers.

He suffered a genuine injury in 1994 and started claiming benefits legitimately, but carried on after recovering and returning to work.

He repeatedly signed forms saying he was still unfit for work and that his partner was also not working, even though she had a succession of jobs, including one with Somerset County Council.

Monk, of Windmill Hill, Ashill, admitted three offences of deception and was jailed for eight months by Recorder Mr Nigel Lickley QC at Exeter Crown Court.

The judge told him: “You helped yourself to public money for nine years. I accept it was not fraudulent from the outset and you had a significant injury in the 1990s, which entitled you to benefit.

“From at least January, 2001, to March, 2010, you were perfectly capable of work, but kept on claiming benefits, and from time to time you certified that you were still unfit for work.

“Instead of telling the truth you lied. You must have known it was thoroughly dishonest, but it meant the money kept coming in.

“It was dishonesty on a fairly large scale by any reckoning.”

Sean Brunton, prosecuting, said the case came to light when an investigation showed Monk claimed incapacity benefit while earning £17,500 a year working for a newspaper group in Somerset.

“He also claimed his partner was at home looking after their children when she had jobs with Bookers, Somerset County Council and Balfour Beattie,” said Mr Brunton, who told the court Monk claimed a total of £84,347.81, mostly in incapacity benefit, and for council tax and housing benefit.

Patrick Mason, defending, said Monk is now being treated for depression as a result of the extreme remorse he feels.

He said:”He’s riddled with guilt and shame, and with the embarrassment he has brought to his family.

“He was only trying to make ends meet and not indulging in a luxurious lifestyle.

“It isn’t as if he had created any fictitious children or anything like that.

“He’s a self-employed photographer of considerable talent who tells me he wants to go and work in Spain as a wedding photographer, where there is apparently great demand.”

Mr Mason said there is every chance the money will be repaid through the equity Monk has in his house.