A ST Neots man who illegally claimed over \u00A36,500 in benefits was told by magistrates that "it was a willful and persistent fraud on the public purse". Karl Barnett, 36, from Swift Close, St Neots, appeared before Huntingdon magistrates and pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud in a prosecution brought jointly by Huntingdonshire District Council and the Department of Work and Pensions. The court was told that he was overpaid a total of \u00A36,535 in housing benefit, Council Tax benefit and income support during 2006 despite returning to work. In mitigation it was stated that Barnett had got into considerable debt after being unable to work due to a knee operation and being bedridden for six months. In passing sentence, magistrates said they had considered a custodial sentence, but felt sending him to prison would restrict his ability to repay the money. Instead, Barnett was given a 12-month community penalty and a curfew order for four months and ordered to pay \u00A3100 costs each to the council and DWP. A compensation order was made for the balance of the overpayments to be repaid at \u00A325 a week.