8 Apr 2014

Of course this benefit fraudster was guilty

A globe-trotting benefits cheat who travelled the world while claiming she was agoraphobic and housebound has been told to expect jail.

'Agoraphobic' Tracy Johnson claimed to be so unwell that she could not leave her own house or walk more than five metres without help.

But the 52-year-old mother, from Frome, Somerset, was actually enjoying a 'champagne lifestyle' while writing travel guides, cookbooks and steamy novels as she falsely claimed benefits of around £50,000.

As well as a four-month stint in India, Johnson travelled on shopping sprees in New York and Madrid. A court also heard she spent six months working in Argentina as a tour guide while receiving cold winter payments. And the day after telling benefits officials she could not walk more than five metres (16ft) without help, Johnson went on a two-day trip to central London.

She told the jury during the trial: 'I think I'm entitled to go and sit on a beach in Goa. But you can sit on a beach in Goa watching the sunset and still be in a pretty desperate state.'

A jury at Merthyr Crown Court convicted the defendant of 13 charges - including fraud, dishonestly making a false representation, and dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstances between January 2008 and July 2012.

Recorder Andrew Crabb warned Johnson to expect a custodial sentence. He said: 'A period of custody is likely to follow. How long that will be I could not say at this point.'

Joanna James, prosecuting, earlier told the oourt:
Tracy Johnson was living the life that honest, decent, hardworking taxpayers could only dream of. While workers were going out to do their daily grind, she was shopping in New York or having a few days in Madrid. She said she was unable to live on a day-to-day basis because she was agoraphobic, suffered depression, hallucinations, anxiety, blackouts and post-traumatic stress disorder. But while submitting claim forms telling the authorities that she was unwell, she was travelling the world on taxpayers’ money.
The court heard how Johnson, of Frome, Somerset, had changed her address to her mother’s home in Builth Wells, Powys, for the purpose of claiming benefits. She was arrested when she tried to renew her benefits claim in June after she returned from India.

Miss James said: ‘In 2012 she decided to use taxpayers’ money to have a four-month trip around India.' When police searched her home, luggage tags were still on her suitcases.

The jury had heard she had described herself as a 'spoilt girl' who travelled the world sipping pink champagne worth two weeks of a local's wages in a Himalayan spa, trekking in South America where she ran a tour guide business, shopping in the States and sunning herself on Indian beaches. In one year alone between 2011 and 2012, she spent just one month in the UK spending time in America and Argentina, where she worked in both countries as a tour guide, returning from a four-month holiday to India and Goa in April 2012.

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