A FORMER breakfast television presenter spared jail after being convicted of benefit fraud has been ordered to repay more than £100,000 after a judge told her he “found it difficult to trust a word she said”.
Louise Port, 38, who worked at GMTV until 2006, broke down in tears as a court heard she failed to declare that she owned a two-bedroom flat in Isleworth, west London, and instead used the cash to pay off her credit card debts.
The Scot, who used to date former Scotland football manager Craig Brown, was found guilty at a previous hearing at Southwark Crown Court of a “deliberate deception” over four years between 2007 and 2011.
However, in an “act of mercy” she was handed an 18-month suspended sentence because she suffers from epilepsy, which led her to lose her job on the breakfast show in 2008.
Port, originally from Golspie, Sutherland, now works in nightclubs and as a nursing assistant at University College Hospital to make ends meet.
She had earlier told the court she could afford to pay back just £74,000 and tried to claim her father, Campbell Port, owned 27 per cent of the Osterley Road property, which she bought in 1996 for £89,000 but which has now more than trebled in price. Her father appeared in court yesterday to support her claims. However, Alexandra Ward, prosecuting, said the £25,000 he gave her to buy the property was “a gift from a father to daughter,” not a registered investment, and accused Port of making up the story to avoid paying back the full amount.
Judge Anthony Pitts, who gave Port a suspended jail sentence and 120 hours of community service at her earlier sentencing hearing, ordered her to repay £91,330 to City of Westminster Council, to which she also owes £10,000 in council tax.
He said: “I must confess I find it very difficult to trust a word she says in terms of honesty.
“Of course she has had great difficulties in her life, but it is quite clear to me that she lied whenever it suited her to the jury with considerable front, and despite her sad personal problems the jury agreed. And I don’t believe again, I’m afraid, what I have heard from Miss Port.”
Port wept in the dock as the judge said she must also repay £15,000, half the prosecution costs, to bring the case to court.
The former journalist, who has also worked for the BBC, has six months to pay or faces being jailed. The judge said: “The period for this amount of money is up to two years imprisonment but I will pass a period of one year’s imprisonment in default of payment. Do you understand?” “Yes,” Port replied.
Port, who now rents a flat in Charing Cross, London, must sell the Isleworth flat she bought when she was 20 – now worth £300,000 – to repay the cash.
She was convicted of four counts of housing benefit fraud – three of making dishonest representations to obtain benefit and one of failing to declare a change in circumstances.
Port has also worked for BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 5 Live and read the sports news on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show.
In 2008, Port lost a £500,000 disability discrimination and unfair dismissal claim against GMTV after insisting she was forced out for refusing to work night shifts due to her epilepsy.
But she was successful in winning £235,000 libel damages after false reports were published in two Sunday newspapers in 2003 that she had cheated on Mr Brown.