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10 Apr 2014

Claimant "could hardly walk" but holidayed in China

A benefits cheat who claimed over £35,000 in disability payments was caught when she posted a picture of herself on the Great Wall of China on Facebook. (h/t Dave)

Dawn Pinchen from Annitsford, Northumberland, said she was unable to walk the length of a car due to a spinal injury.

The 40-year-old fraudulently claimed £35,601 in income support and disability allowance over six years between 2007 and 2013.

Newcastle Crown Court heard how Pinchen was caught by the Department of Work and Pensions after officials found a picture of her on the 13,000-mile Chinese landmark on Facebook. Officials had also seen her walking in to a shopping centre unaided, the court heard.

She pleaded guilty to three counts of failure to notify in change of circumstances - and was handed a four-month suspended jail term and 150 hours unpaid work.

Pinchen is also paying back the money she fraudulently claimed in instalments of £18.25 a week.

Speaking outside court, the woman said claims she was walking the Great Wall were 'a load of rubbish' - and said she was just visiting the landmark.

The court heard how Pinchen was legitimately claiming benefits from 1994. Between December 2007 and January 2013 Pinchen’s circumstances changed - but she continued to claim and was given a total of £35,601. Fraud Investigation Officers begun observing Pinchen’s movements and she was soon spotted strolling into and out of her local shopping centre with no aid.

In early 2010 Pinchen’s husband earned a large amount of money selling websites and then transferred the income into her bank account. As a result, in 2011, the couple had the money available to travel 5000 miles for a 10-day sight-seeing holiday in China. Pinchen then posted photos from the holiday on Facebook, including a snap of her on the Great Wall of China. Investigators were able to press charges after gaining this crucial evidence to suggest she was physically and financially more stable than she claimed.

Alec Burns, prosecuting, told the court: 'On the social media website, Facebook, Mrs Pinchen posted photos of her and her husband on holiday in China. There was a photo of her stood on the Great Wall of China. She had also been observed walking from her car into Manors Walk Shopping centre in Cramlington, Northumberland, and walking from her car into and out of her local ASDA supermarket with a trolley. On all occasions she did this with no aid at all. There was no sign of a walking stick or frame.'

Judge Penny Moreland QC told Pinchen:
Benefits are for those who need them and for those entitled. People like you, dishonest people, give those with honest claims a bad name and it is wrong.
Tony Cornberg, defending, said: 'There was some entitlement though we are not sure what that might be. Mrs Pinchen is still having spinal treatment. She is by no means a regular holiday maker. She has been sitting there watching life happen to everyone else.'

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