24 Feb 2014

Wife claimed benefits for dead husband

A wife who secretly buried her dead husband under a garden rockery and continued to collect his benefits payments for four years has been jailed.

Rebekah Sturdey disposed of her husband Geoffrey's body on their isolated small holding - and pocketed over £70,000.

The 56-year-old carried out the secret burial with two other women after he died aged 60 of a suspected heart attack.

Officials became suspicious after disability allowance and pension credits totalling £77,318 were paid in Mr Sturdey's name after he was last seen alive in 2008.

A court heard Mrs Sturdey told investigators her husband had gone on a touring holiday around Europe.

But checks revealed he had no valid passport and a £20,000 aerial and land search was launched by a specialist forensic team to find his body in a plot on the land near Tregaron, West Wales.

Sturdey buried her husband with the help of his paid carer, Boqer-Ore Adie and Adie's daughter, Karmel.

Prosecutor Huw Rees said Adie, 43, was paid in excess of £19,000 in income support and carers' allowance for looking after Mr Sturdey in the years after he died.

The Department for Work and Pensions said after October 2008, when Mr Sturdey died, his wife and carer claimed £21,718 in disability living allowances, £9,415 in carer's allowance, £10,143 in income support and £36,041 in pension credits.

Mr Rees said:
He was buried in a rockery at twice the depth of a normal grave. The women later admitted the rockery was the easiest place to bury a body but it was what he wanted. His body was remarkably well-preserved and he was identified by his dental records. The women were originally arrested on suspicion of murder but tests showed he had died of natural causes. He had a history of stroke and heart attacks.
The court heard it had been Mr Sturdey's wish to be buried on his land at the 20-acre farm.

Swansea Crown Court heard Iranian-born Mrs Sturdey and her British-born husband had set up a religious community along with Adie and her two children.

Mr Rees explained:
Their home contained a large number of religious books. They were not part of any organised group but they studied the Bible, particularly the Old Testament and Adi had taught herself Hebrew. Mr Sturdey had chosen his own burial plot where he expected to be raised from the dead. The group expected Jesus's return to earth after his death.
Mrs Sturdey and Adie carried on being paid the benefits after his death in October 2008.

Investigators found more than £6,000 cash in a sweet tin, and gold worth £50,000.

Sturdey and Adie admitted fraud by failing to notify authorities they were in receipt of disability allowance and pension credits in Mr Sturdey's name.

Their Beth Berin 'wildlife haven' and religious community was at the end of a remote track near the village of Llwynygroes, deep in the Welsh countryside.

Warnings on the gate told hikers and walkers to keep away and the Ten Commandments were pinned up on a board at the entrance.

Mrs Sturdey admitted conspiracy to prevent the lawful and decent burial of her husband. Adie and stepdaughter Karmel Adie, 25, admitted the same charge.

Representing Sturdey, Christopher James said: 'She respected his wishes for his burial. They did not wish for a post mortem examination to be carried out. The burial was in accordance with their Biblical beliefs.'

Mrs Sturdey and Adie were both given 20 months in prison. Karmel Adie was given a nine-month suspended sentence.

Judge Keith Thomas described their crime as 'highly unusual and a unique set of circumstances'. He said:
You took advantage of the sad death of Geoffrey Sturdey to conceal the fact he had passed away and deliberately continued to claim benefits. You were not entitled to that money. Whatever the motivation for burying him on the land without notifying the authorities, it gave you the opportunity to enrich yourself at the expense of the rest of us. You told a series of lies to fool the authorities. This was a calculated fraud.
Mr Sturdey's body has since been reburied under the rockery in accordance with his wishes.

1 comment:

Mark Wadsworth said...

That would be "widow", not "wife".