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4 Jun 2013

No jail for £90k repeat benefit thief

Weighing 28 stone, Tracey Shellard claimed she was so unwell she could hardly walk and struggled even to make a cup of tea.

Over the years Shellard, 49, claimed almost £100,000 in benefits by detailing severe health problems linked to her obesity.

But her sob story, a court heard, turned out to be a big fat lie.

While receiving the benefits, Shellard went on a strict calorie-controlled diet and began to lose vast amounts of weight, slimming down to 10 stone.

Yet she hid the news from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Far from being incapable of looking after herself, she ditched her mobility scooter, began taking her dog on long walks and was fit enough to carry heavy shopping bags.

A covert surveillance operation was launched by the DWP, and she was spotted carrying a 32-inch television from the shops.

Eventually Shellard was arrested and hauled before the courts, where she admitted four charges of failing to notify of a change in circumstances.

She was branded a ‘lying scrounger’ by the judge at Manchester Crown Court, but was spared jail, despite a previous conviction for benefit fraud in the 1990s.

Jonathan Rogers, prosecuting, told the court that Shellard had been overpaid a total of £98,000, although she would have been entitled to £8,000 of the cash in tax credits if she had been honest.

She claimed disability living allowance from 2000, with payments increased to a higher rate after she detailed health problems linked to her obesity.

However, in 2008, Shellard began getting more exercise and lost eight stone. By 2011, she had lost a further ten stone.

After she was arrested in September 2011, she got a job at a nursing home, working up to 48 hours a week.

Shellard also lied about living alone to rake in income support, housing benefit, and council tax benefit.

In fact, she was living with her husband of 23 years, who was in work and supporting her financially. Denise Fitzpatrick, defending, said Shellard had ‘learned her lesson’.

Handing her a 12-month suspended sentence, with a six-month curfew and 80 hours of unpaid work, Recorder Craig Sephton QC said she had been ‘taking money this country desperately needs to serve your own ends’.

The judge said he took into account that she had got a job and had completed training courses which meant she had made herself ‘a useful member of society instead of a sponger’.

Back in 2003, she had said in a DWP interview that she struggled to stand up again after sitting down, used a walking stick indoors, needed help to stop her ‘sliding off pillows’ in bed, couldn’t make a cup of tea without dropping it, and was dependent on a mobility scooter when she left the house.

She told officers: 'If I had help I would go everywhere - I just want to be normal, but I know that will never be.'

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