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16 Jun 2015

£30k benefit thief mother jailed

A benefit cheat who scammed £30,000 by pretending to be a single mum has been jailed after benefits bosses saw her relationship status on Facebook.

Denise Lonie has been caged for 12 months after claiming she had broken up from her boyfriend Graeme Heatherwick when they were still living together with their children as a family.

She kept the fraud up for four years - but was rumbled when welfare chiefs spotted a string of photos of them together on Facebook, including some where he had commented things like 'sitting on the patio with the missus'.

She hid their relationship from the Department for Work and Pensions so she could claim Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. But in reality the family living in the same house in Dundee - taking holidays together and sharing household expenses.

A probe began after confidential information was received by the DWP.

During their investigation they checked Lonie's social media profiles - and discovered her Facebook page said she was "in a relationship with Graeme Heatherwick". The publicly accessible page also contained a string of photos of her posing with her partner at family events.

Fiscal depute Nicola Gillespie told Dundee Sheriff Court that an investigation started after the DWP received information that she was not a single mum, as she had claimed.

She said: "There were various checks through banks and other establishments such as the council. They appeared to show that Mr Heatherwick resided at her address. His bank account was registered at that address, as was his credit card. He was down as an emergency contact with the school, and the address was given as her address.

"Checks were done on her Facebook account which showed her as in a relationship with him. There were photos of holidays taken, and comments by him with her saying things like 'sitting on the patio with the missus'.

"He was interviewed by the DWP and said he lived with her and their two children. They had been living together since 2005 but split briefly in 2009 before reconciling.

"She was interviewed in December 2013 and said she had been 'stupid' and knew it was her responsibility."

Sheriff Lorna Drummond QC jailed Lonie for 12 months.

She said: "This is a serious and significant offence totalling £30,000. The court has custody at the forefront of its mind with a significant amount of money involved like that. In this case I'm satisfied there is no suitable alternative to a custodial sentence."

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