31 Mar 2014

£100,000 benefit fraud couple try to hide their identities as they face jail

Mother of five Lesley Isobel Jones fiddled more than £108,000 in benefits while driving around in a BMW with a personalised number plate.

The 50 year old took her family on an all-inclusive holiday to Turkey and enjoyed breaks in Sharm el Sheikh and Spain while claiming income support, employment support, tax credits and council tax relief. She also bought a £27,000 luxury caravan berthed in a seaside holiday park.

Jones and her husband Thomas Adrian Jones, aged 52, were told they would go to jail, after a jury convicted them of fraud.

Thomas Jones had claimed that the relationship had ended when the couple split up during their wedding reception.

The fraudsters both tried to protect their identities by hiding their faces after their court appearance. Thomas Jones donned a mask as he left court, in an effort to hide from Evening Post cameras, while his wife pulled her hood across her face.

Swansea Crown Court heard that the couple told the authorities they had never lived together and Lesley Jones claimed benefits as a lone parent. She received a total of £108,325 over a 10 year period, before she was caught. The jury heard the couple managed to have twins — even though they claimed the marriage had never got off the ground.

And Thomas Jones had his Royal Mail wages sent to her address in Landore, Swansea. The TV licence was in his name, they had a joint bank account and he paid the household bills.

The jury heard that Lesley Jones may have got away with more, but Department for Work and Pensions records went back only to 2002. She had been claiming since 1996.

Thomas Jones told the jury he realised their marriage was a mistake on their wedding day in 2000. He said he walked out of the wedding reception and did not see his wife again for two weeks. He said he did not move in with her until 2011. But, said Paul Hobson, prosecuting, there was ample evidence the couple had lived together as man and wife throughout their marriage. And they only confessed to being man and wife when they knew an investigation was under way.

The jury heard that during one period examined by a financial expert Lesley Jones received £79,308 in benefits, which she claimed was her sole source of income. But during the same period she managed to spend £190,721. And knowing she was being investigated by fraud officers she sold her house to a relative and then claimed housing benefit to pay the rent. But she was turned down.

After unanimous verdicts of guilty were returned the jury were told that Thomas Jones had lost his job for stealing mail and was already under a suspended prison sentence. Lesley Thomas had previous convictions for theft and shoplifting.

Judge Keith Thomas said he would sentence the pair after probation officers had prepared reports into their backgrounds. But he told them:
These are offences that warrant sentences of immediate imprisonment. I will take some persuading that that would not be the proper outcome of the case.
He granted them bail meanwhile, but warned them “to be under no illusion. You must prepare for imprisonment.”

Judge Thomas instigated a Proceeds of Crime investigation to try and recover some of the money.

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