I thought council payments were from Peter Stringfellow, claims alleged benefit fraudster Stephen Sussams

Croydon Guardian: Stephen Sussams appearing at Croydon Crown Court Stephen Sussams appearing at Croydon Crown Court

A businessman accused of pocketing nearly £17,600 of council money for caring for a man who was already dead has claimed he thought the payments were from Peter Stringfellow.

Stephen Sussams, 59, withdrew the money from Keith Dickinson's bank account shortly after his death in August 2008.

It had been mistakenly paid out by Croydon Council, who had funded the severely ill Mr Dickinson's home-based care and had not been informed he had died.

But Mr Sussams told Croydon Crown Court that he had assumed the money had been pension instalments from nightclub magnate Peter Stringfellow, who had employed Mr Dickinson "off and on" throughout his life.

He said: "Keith had made reference to a pension and I assumed it was from Stringfellows.

"He used to go to Stringfellows and it was always as the guest of Peter Stringfellow. Everything was always free.

"He worked with him off and on since he was a teenager - all the way through his life."

Mr Sussams worked as Mr Dickinson's live-in carer in Norbury from 2002 until his death. It is alleged that he continued to receive council payments for this care for five months after Mr Dickinson died.

He is also accused of fraudulently claiming housing benefit on the Marston Way flat that he initially shared with Mr Dickinson, after later becoming the sole registered tenant in 2008.

It is claimed that Mr Sussams pocketed £14,625 in housing and council tax benefit from Croydon Council, despite the fact that he was running a gourmet gastropub in Devon.

He is accused of concealing the fact that he was the landlord of the Royal Dart Hotel in Dartmouth and of failing to reveal that he was the director of two companies, Kingswear Inns and Jireh Investments and Assets.

But he told the court he thought he had fulfilled his obligations when he told recruitment company Reed in Partnership, which he was a client, that he was opening the pub.

"I felt no duty to report it," said Mr Sussams. "I had reported it already to Reed in Partnership. I wasn't aware that housing benefit was still being paid."

He said he had been unaware that the recruitment firm registering him as employed would not stop his housing benefit.

He denies theft, dishonestly making a false statement or representation and three counts of fraud by failing to disclose information.

The trial is due to end next week.

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