A BENEFITS cheat who defrauded taxpayers of almost £25,000 has escaped jail - after a judge heard he was community minded and had presented two giant pumpkins to a local school.

Ex-miner Patrick McLoughlin, 53, from Thurnscoe, dishonestly claimed £24,420.57 over an eight-year period, Sheffield Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Kevin Jones said he had failed to declare to the Department of Work and Pensions that he had been receiving an occupational pension since April 6, 1992.

His barrister, Alison Dorrell, said following a genuine accident at work he was unable to work for a period but was now in "good physical shape".

A keen gardener, he had two allotments and gave away the produce he did not need and last year donated two giant pumpkins to the local school.

McLaughlin - whose house is now at risk as a proceeds of crime application is underway - is repaying the money at £6 a fortnight from his unemployment benefits.

Recorder Nicholas Lumley QC told him: "The offences are sufficiently serious that they have to be marked with a term of imprisonment, but because you are of good character I can suspend that term."

He gave McLoughlin a nine-month jail term, suspended for two years, and ordered him to carry out 120 hours of unpaid community work.