Published: 00:01, 26 July 2017
A woman claiming she was suffering from multiple sclerosis exaggerated her condition to obtain more than £62,000 in benefits she was not entitled to.
Jennifer White also said the money was to support her mentally ill son, but a court heard she spent some of it on exotic holidays and lavish living.
The 64-year-old retired seamstress was spared a jail sentence after a judge said he was prepared to give her "the benefit of the doubt and take a merciful course".
She was sentenced to 23 months imprisonment suspended for two years and will be subject to a tagged curfew from 8pm to 6am for six months.
Maidstone Crown Court heard White claimed £27,961 in disability living allowance, £16,864 in employment support allowance and £17,319 in income support over about 13 years she was not entitled to.
Prosecutor Trevor Wright said despite White claiming she was severely disabled there was no handrail on the open plan staircase at her three-bedroom home in Queensway, Sheerness, and no disability aids in the bathroom.
Her double bed was propped up by two speakers with a plywood base and a mattress 3ft off the floor.
“Someone with such disabilities plainly would have found getting in and out of bed difficult,” said Mr Wright.
She had turned down an exchange house as she did not need wheelchair access and wanted a large garden.
"Photographs seized showed you enjoying life on those holidays with no obvious signs of disability" - Judge David Griffith-Jones
There were no walking sticks or crutches under the stairs, as White claimed.
"She also claimed there was a wheelchair in the garden, despite making it clear she did not need one," said Mr Wright.
“She gave a prepared statement in which she said she suffered from multiple sclerosis.
“She said she always needed a stick to help with her balance.”
She also made claims in the name of her niece, who lived in Australia.
A probation officer said White accounted for the offences by saying it was to support her schizophrenic son.
“She said sometimes she could be fit and be able to do things, and others she couldn’t,” he said.
“She accepts what she has done is wrong and amounts to stealing.
“She is unfit for unpaid work on the basis of what she tells me.”
Judge David Griffith-Jones QC said: “People don’t recover from multiple sclerosis. It is a progressive disease. She was making claims from 1993.”
White, who admitted benefit fraud, was said to be paying back the money from her pension at the rate of £50 a week.
The judge said White, who now lives on the Isle of Wight, was fortunate the charges spanned 2002 to 2015 as he had been told about a period dating back to the early 1990s.
She made the claims, he said, on the basis she was severely disabled from multiple sclerosis.
“You were enjoying holidays abroad,” he said.
“Photographs seized showed you enjoying life on those holidays with no obvious signs of disability.
“Certainly, there were no signs of disability anything like the extent upon which you claims were made and paid.
“On any view, looking at these frauds in the round they represent a concerted and deliberate course of deliberate behaviour on your part.
“You profited to the tune of £62,126. This was plainly a series of offences of high culpability, given the sophisticated nature and the planning that went into them.
“You maintained you felt compelled to commit these offences in order to assist you in caring for your son.
“The fact is some of the monies went to fund holidays which may be described to a degree as exotic and other features of living which may be described to some extent as lavish.”
Judge Griffith-Jones said nothing less would do than a prison sentence and she could not complain if it was immediate.
But he added: “Given your age and circumstances with the assessment of the probation officer, with which I agree, that you pose a low risk of further offending, I am prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt and take a merciful course by suspending the operation of the sentence.”
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