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30 May 2018

Woman jailed for benefit fraud

A 54-year-old woman who claimed almost £35,000 in benefits over five years has been jailed.

Mary Mitchell, from Old Kilpatrick, appeared for sentencing at Dumbarton Sheriff Court for obtaining the Jobseekers Allowance, and housing and council tax benefits between February 2010 and October 2015.

She previously pleaded guilty to the charges after the case was reduced from a solemn matter that would have gone in front of a jury.

Sentencing had been delayed after it became apparent Mitchell had significant hearing difficulties and she was aided last week by an assistant typing out what was said by court officials so Mitchell could read it on a computer screen in front of her.

Her defence solicitor, Brian McGuire, acknowledged the hearing troubles were the only mitigating factor preventing her going to jail.

Mr McGuire said Mitchell developed an alcohol problem after 2000 and it got worse before getting married to her husband.

The drinking got so bad, her husband left the home for a number of years.

Twice Mitchell was admitted to hospital and given a “stark warning” she would “kill herself” if she continued to drink, and she lost three jobs as a result of her addiction.

Eventually she managed to get off the drink and her husband returned home.

But Mitchell didn’t acknowledge to officials that she was no longer living alone and that her husband was working.

Mr McGuire said: “She accepted her guilt but there was a dispute about the background. The parties are doing what they can to pay it back. Her husband had been paying back £30 a month for two years. I think it would take 30 years to repay this. There’s a stark choice. Does it have to be custody? People go to prison that fall into the category that shouldn’t go to prison.”

But Sheriff John Hamilton noted the social work report on Mitchell didn’t mention the hearing problem at all and that the Court of Appeal was clear that jail was the appropriate sentence for fraud amounts over £20,000.

The sheriff paused for a long period as he considered his options but said he had to consider the public protection element.

He said: “It’s not just about her. It’s the matter of the message sent out to the public. This is a very difficult case. For five years, you knowingly defrauded two support funds to the tune of £35,000 and no real reason for it has been put forward. That’s a significant sum. I accept you have no previous convictions and you may have health problems. But I feel compelled that this level of defrauding public funds is very much towards the top end of the scale.”

Mitchell was jailed for six months, reduced from 10 months because she pleaded guilty.

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