Published: 08:36, 18 December 2018
| Updated: 08:52, 18 December 2018
A £10,000 benefit cheat pretended to be permanently wheelchair bound – only to be seen working out in a gym.
Sobbing Layla Leach called prosecutor John Bishop a “bully” before Folkestone Magistrates’ Court found her guilty of dishonestly making a false statement to claim the cash.
The 36-year-old was also found guilty of dishonestly failing to notify Department for Work and Pensions her long-term health condition, Fibromyalgia, had improved.
The court heard the mother-of-four - who pleaded not guilty to both offences - was found to be working out at Ashford International Hotel and Anytime Fitness while claiming the highest level of benefit for immobility.
Leach, of Leaveland Close, Ashford, claimed she joined two gyms, one at Ashford International Hotel and Anytime Fitness, under doctor’s recommendation to improve her health.
But neither gym received a medical note or information relating to Leach’s supposed physical limitation, the court heard.
Evidence read before magistrates included a fitness instructor’s account of Leach using weights, cardio equipment and swimming pool up to three times a week.
The DWP ordered Leach to pay back £10,047 at £20 a month to clear the debt - meaning she will be 78 years old when the money is repaid.
Prosecutor John Bishop told the court on Thursday Leach lied to DWP officials for financial gain.
He said: “You wrote in your claim form that you could only walk 20 metres but you have just made clear to this court you don’t even know how far 20 metres is.
“You say you attended the gyms on instruction of a doctor, but the gyms did not receive a medical note and there was no mention of your physical limitations.”
'You wrote in your claim form that you could only walk 20 metres but you have just made clear to this court you don’t even know how far 20 metres is...' - prosecutor John Bishop
Leach hit back at Mr Bishop calling him a “bully”, and when she asked if he was accusing her of lying, he replied “yes".
Keith Betts, defending, said Leach was of “previous good character” and had “no previous convictions".
He explained Leach’s family’s income was benefit-based and her ongoing medical condition meant she would be unfit for unpaid work.
Magistrates sentenced Leach to two 12-week curfews from 7pm to 7am to run concurrently alongside £660 court costs and £85 fine.
On sentencing, the chairman of the bench said: “Her story changed and she contradicted herself a number of times.
“The reason for our findings is that Mrs Leach is not a credible witness, we believe she had full understanding of the decision she made.
“We believe the credibility of the gym instructor.”
Speaking after Thursday’s trial, a DWP spokesman said: “Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like this show how we are catching those who cheat the system and divert taxpayers' money from the people who need it.
“We are determined to catch those we suspect of fraudulently claiming benefits by following up on tip-offs, undertaking surveillance and working with local councils.”