It is one thing for the Scottish Justice Minister to visit in jail an terminally ill man who is seeking parole from his sentence, it is quite another when the Deputy First Minister writes to a Sheriff and suggests what sentencing he should carry out on the case of a convicted fraudster.

Of course Nicola Sturgeon is entitled to write a letter of support for her constituents. She is quite entitled to write laying out any circumstances she feels the judge should take into consideration when making his judgement of sentence. However, she should really rely on research she is a trained solicitor after all.

Abdul Rauf had been convicted of defrauding the taxpayer of £80,000. She claims that he made a “mistake” and urged the judge to “consider alternatives to a custodial sentence”. Sadly if it was a mistake or not, and the judge had ruled that it was not, her constituent had a prior conviction of four years for stealing £58,624 of pension and benefit payments in 1996.

As Mike Rumbles the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip says:

“It beggars belief that the deputy first minister of Scotland could think it appropriate to write in support of a convicted fraudster who is now facing another conviction.”

Sturgeon admitted last night that she knew of the previous conviction before writing this letter, claiming it was a mistake the second time around. Rauf was convicted this time claiming £650 per month income support from 2001-2006 while living in one property in Glasgow, while owning a second in Edinburgh. His previous offence occurred when he was sub-postmaster at Tollcross Post Office in Edinburgh. Between June 1993 and July 1994, he stole £58,624 in pension and benefit payments. He was sentenced at the High Court in Edinburgh after a sheriff-court jury heard he had forged signatures on 779 Department of Social Security payment orders and kept the cash for himself.

When asked in court why he had not declared the property in Edinburgh he said, “It slipped my mind.”

As the DWP campaign to catch benefit fraud says, no ifs, no buts. This is not a few pounds but several thousand. This is not one mistake but a constant claiming on Income Support month on month and signing a declaration that the details are correct.

No ifs, no buts Nicola.

UPDATE: To be fair I’m giving two alternate views one from new blogger Marion Steel, the other from Caron (because so rarely do we take differing views).