FORMER mayor of Horwich Bernard McCartin broke down in tears as he admitted to a court he was a benefits cheat.

The 66-year-old told magistrates he had defrauded more than £18,000 from the public purse.

McCartin claimed he suffered from crippling back pain and that he could walk no further than 25 yards without a stick.

But he was exposed as a liar when investigators from the Department of Work and Pensions caught him on film.

In an amazing set of clips, McCartin, the former first citizen of Horwich, is seen: l Lifting and carrying a huge bag of compost from the back seat of his car l Lifting heavy boxes of match day programmes which he sold from his wheelchair at the Reebok Stadium l Walking distances of up to 1,100 yards without the aid of his walking stick and without showing any signs of discomfort l Carrying heavy bags of shopping out of a supermarket with his walking stick under his arm l Painting fence posts l Putting on his mayoral chain before attending functions.

Yesterday, magistrates in Bury gave him an eight-week prison sentence, suspended for two years, and a six-month curfew between 5pm and 5am.

McCartin was also told he must wear an electronic tag and pay £250 costs.

The court heard McCartin, of Ainsworth Avenue, Horwich, admitted he should have informed the DWP about an improvement in his condition.

David Hewitt, prosecuting, said McCartin was overpaid by the sum of £18,022 over a period of four years.

In 1997, Mr Hewitt said, McCartin was found to be in need of the higher rate of disability benefit in terms of his mobility and the middle rate in respect of his care needs.

The court heard the higher rate was only available for people who cannot walk at all, or can walk but with great difficulty.

“In his application form, McCartin stated that he was unable to walk without the aid of a walking stick and said he could only walk 25 yards before feeling severe discomfort. He said it would take him 15 minutes to walk 25 yards,” said Mr Hewitt.

The DWP filmed McCartin between January and May, 2007 — while he was mayor of Horwich — and captured the incriminating evidence on film.

Officers spoke to him in August, 2007, when he admitted there had been an improvement in his circumstances in May, 2003, when he became a councillor.

He did not report the changes to the DWP however.

Anthony Shimmin, defending, said McCartin was a man of previous good character who suffered from myopathy — a disease which weakens the muscles.

He had worked all his life but this forced him to stop, causing him to become house-bound and depressed.

Mr Shimmin said McCartin turned his life around by becoming a councillor and working in his local community, causing him to push himself beyond his limits.

He added: “The video doesn’t show his suffering at home and the fact that he doesn’t sleep very much. He has served his local community and been promoted to its highest office and now he faces this shame.

“And he is ashamed. This has broken him as much as his medical condition has.”

DWP investigator Andrew Wood said after the hearing: “We would like to make it clear to everybody that there are serious consequences if you commit benefit fraud.”

McCartin was also ordered to pay the £18,000 back at a rate of £12 a week.