A benefits cheat convicted of swindling £80,934 and was caught out by her own holiday snaps has been spared jail – but only after some “harsh words” from a judge.
Linda Hoey was jailed for a total of 18 months, suspended for two years, after telling “bare-faced lies” to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), a crown court judge said.
The 58-year-old falsely claimed her back pain was such that she needed a stick, “hobbled”, “walked backwards down the stairs” and “used furniture for support”.
She wrongly claimed disability living allowance from January 1995, although the claim was initially “genuine”.
However, a holiday photograph showed her enjoying a spot of snorkelling in the Maldives, while work colleagues told how she would carry trays with cups of tea.
She deceived the authorities for 15 years, claiming the higher rate mobility allowance and the middle-band of care allowance – cheating the tax-payer of £65,244 in all.
Hoey, convicted after a trial in July, was also found guilty of cheating the operators of the Midlands M6 Toll out of £15,690, for using a disability pass exempting her from charges.
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Sentencing at Stafford Crown Court on Monday, Judge Michael Elsom said: “In my judgement, your conduct merits harsh words.
“What an example you set your children, sitting in the dock of Stafford Crown Court convicted of offences of dishonesty over a long period of time.”
He went on: ”The time has come where you have to pay the price for 15 years of dishonesty.
“At the time you were telling those lies, you were actually going to work every day, driving yourself to work ever day and you were observed walking.”
Married Hoey claimed she needed a stick to walk any distance, and used one after walking free of court – while family members shielded her from the cameras using umbrellas.
However, the judge said while he accepted medical evidence that she had a “degree of disability”, he found she exaggerated her condition.
He said: “What followed? You walked up a spiral staircase to get to your place of work.
“So all those assertions were nothing more than bare-faced lies which you continued in this court.
“You called two members of your family in support.
“I hardly think you merit the description your daughter gave you, as someone to whom she can look up to as a role model.
“If that’s the sort of role model that your daughter thinks is appropriate – that’s a very great shame indeed.
“The fact you’re shunned by neighbours and people turn their backs on you comes to me as no surprise whatsoever.
“You’ve demonstrated your reputation is that you’re someone whose word cannot be trusted.”
Hoey’s barrister, Marion Smullen, said her client was of previous “exemplary” character, and her claim – at its outset – had been “genuine”.
Mr Recorder Elsom said Hoey had “never shown any remorse or admission of wrong-doing”, despite the “bold and bare facts” of her offending.
He added ordinary members of public who paid their taxes rightly felt “revulsion” at “people such as you”.
Outside court, the DWP senior fraud manager for Midlands shires, Dave Pedley, welcomed the sentence, adding they would pursue Hoey for the full amount she had claimed.
He added that the department had secured a charge on both her property, in Talland Avenue, Amington, Tamworth, and against a narrow boat she owned at Kings Bromley.
Mr Pedley added: “On top of that is the stigma of being a convicted benefits fraudster.”