A BENEFITS cheat has avoided prison after pleading guilty to stealing an amount below the £10,000 threshold for jail.

Christopher Warnock had been accused of illegally claiming more than £15,000 in less than two years.

But following talks between defence lawyer Aidan Gallagher and prosecutors, an admission of defrauding the public purse to the tune of £6,000 was accepted.

Warnock, 31, of Larkfield — who is about to become a father — made false statements to illegally tap in to employment support allowance and universal credit between May 2016 and March last year.

He told officials that he was single and living alone when in fact he was maintaining a common household with his employed partner.

The Crown accepted his not guilty pleas to alleged housing benefit and jobseekers allowance scams.

Solicitor Mr Gallagher told how deductions are now being made from Warnock's adjusted benefits to repay the money he stole.

Sheriff Thomas Ward dismissed this akin to 'robbing Peter to pay Paul'.

The sheriff said: "He's getting money from the state to pay back what he took from the state in the first place."

Procurator fiscal Ziad Ul Hassan stated: "The accused made admissions after information was received from an anonymous source and enquiries conducted."

Addressing Mr Gallagher after reading Warnock's background report, Sheriff Ward said: "He says he's unable to do anything.

"If that is the case then the alternative is jail. See if that's what he wants."

Mr Gallagher replied: "Unpaid work is ruled out on health grounds, but there is no reason why he could not comply with a restriction of liberty (electronic tagging) order.

"His wife is due to give birth in a matter of weeks."

Sheriff Ward told Warnock: "You defrauded the public purse of more than £6,000.

"There are plenty of people who would take the view that you should be going to jail."

Warnock, of Berwick Road, has been placed on a tag curfew to remain within his home between 7pm and 7am each day for four months.