Former Man United star admits benefit fraud

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A graphic demonstration of professional sport's ability to humble its erstwhile heroes was delivered yesterday when one of Sir Alex Ferguson's first young Manchester United stars admitted claiming tax benefit and job seeker's allowance while working.

Lee Martin was a celebrity when he scored the winning goal in the 1990 FA Cup final replay to defeat Crystal Palace, delivering the first trophy of Sir Alex's managerial career at Old Trafford.

Many credit the left back with helping to revive Sir Alex's career. Only weeks before the 1-0 triumph at Wembley stadium, which followed a 3-3 draw in the first game, speculation was mounting that the manager's job was under threat. Instead, he went on to enjoy a reign that resulted in a knighthood after the team became European champions.

Yesterday, Martin, aged 33, who is now unemployed and living 20 miles from Manchester in the Derbyshire town of Glossop, was sentenced to 180 hours community service and ordered to pay £522 costs.

He has been forced to borrow from his family to pay the money back at an agreed rate of £5 a week, since his current income is limited to a £120 weekly job seeker's allowance and £20 child benefit.

The former player moved to Celtic, Bristol Rovers and Huddersfield before quitting professional football in 1998 after failing to recover from a back operation. At a hearing in December, he admitted claiming £3,294 in job seeker's allowance and £409 in council tax benefit while working as a presenter for MUTV, Manchester United's digital television station.

He was unemployed when he began making his benefit claim but then landed the job, which provided a reminder of the cash he had earned in the early 1990s. During a 25-week period, Martin worked on television 40 times, earning £11,300.

But he continued to obtain benefits between November 2000 and February 2001 and did not reveal his work, an offence that could have delivered him to prison for three months when he appeared for sentence before Glossop magistrates.

Nicky Mault, for the prosecution, said his was not a marginal case of someone on the minimum wage claiming benefit, but of someone earning hundreds of pounds as a presenter. Michael Brady, for the defence, said it was "a matter of great regret" that Mr Martin had yielded to the temptation to be fraudulent. Martin, who admitted seven charges of making false declaration to obtain benefits, declined to comment.