CONSERVATIVES on the Isle of Wight have hit back at criticism of an operation to catch benefit cheats.
Officers from the Isle of Wight Council benefit fraud team and the Department of Work and Pensions took part in last week's police-led 'ring of steel' operation, interviewing those who were stopped about their working and living arrangements.
The operation, which led to 25 fraud investigations, prompted criticism from Isle of Wight Labour who accused the officers of Big Brother-style intrusion.
Today, however Isle of Wight Council leader Cllr David Pugh, speaking as leader of the ruling Tory group, said: "The culture of benefit dependency soared under the Labour Government, so it is little surprise that their local representatives are opposed to firm action to tackle benefit fraud.
"The Island Conservatives fully support the crackdown to identify potential fraud cases, and we will continue to support IW Council officers and other agencies in taking such steps.
"The fact that 25 benefit fraud investigations were sparked by the operations shows that this has been a worthwhile exercise. These could amount to 25 thefts of taxpayers’ money which may not have been identified if the Island Labour Party had their way. It is clear whose side they are on.
"All hard-working, honest Island taxpayers should have nothing to fear from such operations continuing to take place in order to identify the small minority of people who are abusing the benefits system."
Isle of Wight Labour Party chair Deborah Gardiner said yesterday (Monday): "While Labour Party members naturally disapprove of benefit fraud, the police seem to have issued an entirely inappropriate invitation to the agencies who deal with this fraud to join in a motoring operation and to interrogate innocent people about their private lives."