Basking in the Egyptian sun while riding a camel, they seem to be a healthy, happy couple enjoying a hard-earned holiday.
But in fact Vaughan Dodds, a former police bodyguard for Tony Blair, and his wife Mandy had swindled more than £50,000 of benefits to pay for the luxury break.
The 45-year-old has been jailed for two and a half years for the ‘sophisticated and planned’ fraud in which he told officials the couple suffered crippling illnesses.
His lies were unravelled after fraud investigators discovered evidence of the couple living a lavish lifestyle – including pictures of the family sipping cocktails and dancing on their cabin beds in a luxury cruise liner.
Dodds received disability benefits for four years after leaving the police force, claiming severe fatigue and depression left him housebound and occasionally suicidal.
But investigators found he had in fact been whisking his family away on luxury holidays to Egypt and Florida, and spending £60,000 on restaurants and beauty salons.
He also made crooked claims for his 47-year-old wife Mandy, telling officials she suffered a hearing condition so acute that she couldn’t even stand the noise of toilet paper tearing. But Teesside Crown Court heard how she was spotted riding a motorbike and blow-drying someone’s hair at a family-owned beauty salon.
Dodds, of Langley Moor, County Durham, was convicted of nine counts of fraud relating to benefits claimed between April 2005 and December 2009.
Sentencing, Judge Graham Cook said the offences were ‘sophisticated’ and had involved a degree of planning. He added: ‘It is made very much worse by the fact that you were a serving police officer and the public expect more of a serving or even a former police officer because you should know more than most the difference between right and wrong.’
Dodds left the force after serving for 14 years, during which he guarded Mr Blair’s Sedgefield constituency home when he was prime minister.
Over four years, he fraudulently claimed £56,187 in Disability Living Allowance, income support and council tax benefit for himself and his wife.
At the same time, the jury heard how the couple then began to live a ‘lifestyle they could not have otherwise afforded’. A 40-day undercover investigation found the couple blew the money on a 14-night Canary Island cruise, a £4,000 trip to Orlando and even a two-week holiday to Egypt.
A 40-day undercover investigation found the couple blew the money on a 14-night Canary Island cruise, a £4,000 trip to Orlando and even a two-week holiday to Egypt.
The court heard Dodds told the Department for Work and Pensions in 2005 that his wife Amanda suffered from hyperacusis and autophony, conditions which meant she was extremely sensitive to sound.
In official forms the couple claimed they were living apart and failed to declare that they had £180,000. They sent their children to exclusive private schools – Durham High School for Girls and Durham Chorister School – while enjoying spa days at health and beauty salons costing more than £34,000.
They spent £25,000 wining and dining in hotels and restaurants – including £6,781 at one restaurant alone.
They took the children away on expensive holidays, including a 14-night cruise around the Canary Islands on the luxury liner Legend of the Seas in 2005. The following year their cruises took them to Lisbon, Malaga, Gibraltar, Bilbao and Cherbourg.
At the time, he told officials he and his wife only had £16,000 between them – but investigators later found he had £180,000 in the bank after a large inheritance from his late father that he failed to declare.
Prosecutor Graham O'Sullivan said Dodds described his wife's hearing as so sensitive that 'the crackling of pillows and sheets could wake her'.
Dodds claimed when his wife used the bathroom she was unable to tear her own toilet paper or use the flush because of her illness. But investigators later spotted Ms Dodds blow-drying someone's hair in a beauty salon
The court heard Mr and Mrs Dodds signed up to motorcycling courses and sent their children to private school. Secret footage was made of the couple working out in the gym frolicking in a cruise ship cabin.
Prosecuting, Graham O’Sullivan said: ‘The prosecution make no bones about it – this money was obtained dishonestly from those who award benefits. It was used by Mr Dodds and his family to afford a comfortable life involving cruises, holidays, private education for their children and numerous meals out.
‘It was a lifestyle these people could not have otherwise afforded. The inheritance Mr Dodds received was in fact frittered away. It is right some of it was spent on their children’s education but very far from all of it.’
Nigel Soppitt, mitigating, said: ‘He is a broken man, he is ashamed of himself. His family have been deeply traumatised. His intention was to give his children a cherished upbringing. He is left without his career as a serving police officer, which had seen him commended in the past. His good character has gone.’
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: ‘Cases like this show how we are rooting out the unscrupulous minority who are cheating the system and diverting taxpayers’ money from those who really need it.’
Source with pictures
This pattern - a second spouse claiming for a serious disability - should put benefit staff on enquiry. As it was, his offences continued for four years.
Was she prosecuted?
And forty days' surveillance? That seems excessive.