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10 March 2014, 17:12
A 54-year-old "hoarder'' from Portsmouth has been given a suspended jail sentence for concealing the body of his elderly mother in a freezer at their home in order to continue receiving her benefits.
Philipe Brough, of Charles Street, Portsmouth, pleaded guilty to preventing a lawful and decent burial and fraud.
The body of his 90-year-old mother, Louise Brough, was found in the freezer of their flat in Tyseley Road, Portsmouth, in August last year.
A post-mortem examination was carried out which found she died of natural causes but that she had been dead since about the end of February.
Brough admitted failing to disclose to the Department for Work and Pensions that she had died in order to continue claiming her pension and the benefits he received for being her carer.
Martyn Booth, prosecuting, told Portsmouth Crown Court that Mrs Brough had moved to the flat in the 1970s when her son was aged 11 and following the death of her husband, the defendant's father.
He said that in recent years, Mrs Brough had been bed-bound and only occasionally seen out of the flat. The defendant had given up his job in 2008 to be her full-time carer.
But Mr Booth said concerns about her whereabouts were raised when Portsmouth City Council attempted to contact her in August as extensive refurbishment needed to be carried out at their council flat requiring them to temporarily move out.
He explained that Brough appeared evasive when asked about his mother and refused council staff access to the property.
The police were alerted and Brough told officers his mother was living with an aunt in London.
When this was found to be false, Brough was arrested on suspicion of murder and the freezer was found concealed in her house, Mr Booth said.
He added that following the police investigation, there was no suggestion that Brough caused or was involved in the death of his mother.
Describing the state of the flat when it was searched by police, Mr Booth said:
"It was described as being in something of a state of disarray, it contained a large amount of property cluttering up most of the space in it.
"It was described as typical of the type of person one would associated with as a hoarder.''
"As they cleared items out of it, they found in the corner of a room, hidden behind a mattress, an upright freezer which had been covered by a large cardboard box.
"The freezer was described as being in working order, they found it was plugged in, the power lead was concealed behind various pieces of wood on the floor.
"Industrial tape was placed across the door seals, all designed to prevent the door opening accidentally.
"When the freezer was opened, it revealed the dead body of an elderly white female dressed in her nightclothes. The body was described as frozen solid and was wrapped in a duvet or sheet.''
Mr Booth said the total amount of benefits falsely claimed was £5,390 although Brough had since repaid £2,000 of this.
Matthew Jewell, defending, said his client had a history of depression and had panicked when his mother had died. He said Brough's primary concern was a fear that he would lose his home following his mother's death and he had not set out to commit fraud.
Mr Jewell said:
"This is not a wicked or evil offence, it's an offence borne of distress, depression of an emotional breakdown.''
Sentencing Brough to an eight-month term of imprisonment suspended for 12 months with a 12-month supervision order, Judge Roger Hetherington said he accepted Brough had acted out of an "emotional inability to cope''.
"What is inexcusable is to embark on the elaborate course that you did involving a considerable deception over a period of time in dealing with your mother's death in the way that you did.''