A former NHS nurse and her husband have been jailed after stealing their neighbours’ identities to scrounge over £30,000 of benefit handouts – which they frittered away on partying.
Amanda Heseltine, 34, and 45-year old Richard Connell collected their neighbours’ details while selling cleaning products door-to-door – then used the details to make fraudulent benefit claims.
The jobless pair collected income support, employment support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and social fund payments – as Heseltine exploited her knowledge of the UK welfare system, learned during her time working for the NHS, to help her husband rake in the cash.
Over a three year period, taxpayers’ cash was diverted into the pair’s bank accounts after they hijacked the personal details of 23 people.
Investigators discovered Heseltine – who used to work at Burnley General Hospital in Lancashire – and Connell had submitted benefits application forms using sick notes forged from genuine documents.
The couple, from Nelson, Lancashire, also made phone calls and sent correspondence posing as genuine claimants. All the people they canvassed on the doorstep insisted they had not handed over personal details.
At Burnley Crown Court Heseltine and Connell were both jailed for two years after each admitted 23 counts of fraud totalling £30,497.78 between April 2013 and March 2016.
But neither will have to pay any money back – because both of them claim to be broke.
They'll be back on benefits when they come out.
The couple – who have been together 16 years and have a string of convictions for dishonesty matters – had already been receiving handouts including housing benefit and employment support allowance.
Prosecutor Miss Amanda Johnson said the case involved the identity theft of 23 genuine claimants and added: “Their identities were hijacked by the defendants who used them to make fraudulent benefits claims for income support, employment support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and social fund payments. Applications forms were completed and submitted for different benefits by the defendants, along with doctored or forged medical certificates. They made phone calls posing as genuine customers and sent correspondence to the relevant departments. They operated a number of bank accounts into which payments were made.”
Miss Johnson added the victims all admitted they knew the couple ”personally or indirectly”, as Nelson is a small community.
She said: “All confirmed they had not handed over their details to these defendants or participated in this scheme. The defendants had the information by means of canvassing door-to-door, selling a product.”
The court heard Connell had 86 previous offences on his record whilst Heseltine had 15 offences.
Defence lawyer Richard Taylor said: ”They didn’t themselves go looking for an opportunity to commit these offences, that they were initially approached. They accept there was an illegal opportunity to make money and use their knowledge of the benefits system to make the relevant claims in a variety of ways. It would have been impossible for them to do that without detailed information from each person named in the charge sheet.
“They accept they are both equally involved over a three-year period and they kept 50 per cent of the of the monies obtained illegally. That’s why it was paid into different accounts over which the victims had no control. The sophistication appears to be their own knowledge of the benefits system. They had no trappings of luxury.”
Judge Mr Recorder Nick Clarke, QC, told the couple: ”You were both in receipt of benefits designed to be sufficient to meet all needs like heat, light, warmth and clothing. Unfortunately, you are hardened criminals, who seek to exploit whatever system you can to extract money in as many different ways as you can. You identified a vulnerability in the processes that you sought to exploit. You used your inside knowledge of the workings of the various schemes and everything else you knew about how claims can be made and how payments can be diverted to accounts over which you have control. You consistently and persistently made fraudulent claims – it was almost on a commercial scale.”
Last week in a ‘farewell’ Facebook post Heseltine said: ”Last weekend peeps for a while so its gonna be emotional but I wanna thank everyone who has and continues to be the rocks by my side. Keep shining my amazing family and lets try get through it smiling.
”I am so blessed to have you all but know that wherever I may be you are all kept in my heart and I am so thankful and proud of each of you look after each other. Im coming out tnite mite as well go out with a bang!!!! Need one last time with all my nearest just gonna paint on the smile and dance my ass off.”
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