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31 Oct 2018

Benefit fraud magistrate said she was disabled

A benefits cheat magistrate who said she could barely walk was spotted strolling around the Trafford Centre - and dancing at her own wedding.

Single mother Sandra Howell, who sentenced people in her role as a JP in Stockport, has now been jailed for lying about her disabilities, which she said were the result of a car accident.

A judge blamed her 'flagrant dishonesty' and dubbed her a 'fraudster'.

The 43-year-old claimed thousands of pounds in higher rate Disability Living Allowance while secretly working as a domestic cleaner for various customers.

Howell was in a wheelchair in the dock during her trial at Liverpool Crown Court. Jurors were shown footage of her walking unaided around the court building.

The court heard evidence from cleaning customers including a head teacher who told how she went to Howell’s wedding and saw her dancing.

The jury took less than two hours to find her guilty of two fraud offences.

Howell had denied the charges, which spanned three-and-a-half-years and involved a total of £26,539.

Judge David Aubrey QC told Howell: "What you said to the [Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)] was a sham and it was deceitful throughout. You sitting in judgement on others was a sham and a pretence - and a pretence with the highest form of hypocrisy.

“Between January 2011 and July 2016 you [were] sitting as a magistrate at Stockport Magistrates’ Court in accordance with your oath that you had taken to do right to all manner of people.

“You were administering the law, presiding over cases and sitting in judgement on those before you, no doubt on occasions having to determine whether the evidence was so serious that only an immediate custodial sentence could be justified for a particular defendant before you and the bench.

“During much of that time while you were supposedly administering the law you were breaking the law, repeatedly committing criminal acts by defrauding the state, the DWP, by making flagrant dishonest representations by gross exaggeration of your health issues in order to secure benefits that you were not entitled to.

“You were stealing from the state."

Within a week of completing a claim form in January 2013 she was sitting as a magistrate and two weeks after completing another similar form in November the next year she was again on the Bench and continued in that role until July 2016.

Judge Aubrey said that despite saying she was virtually unable to walk, surveillance footage in June 2016 showed her at the Trafford Centre and working for her cleaning business.

Addressing Howell, he said: "Throughout this period of time you were a fraudster. What you said to the Department …. was a sham and it was deceitful throughout.

“You sitting in judgement on others was a sham and a pretence - and a pretence with the highest form of hypocrisy.”

The judge told the court Howell's claim forms were 'riddled with falsities and dishonesty'. She  was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Martine Snowdon, prosecuting, told the court how Howell told the benefits agency that 'she was unable to work because of her disability following a road traffic accident in 2007'.

She said Howell claimed that she had falls every day, couldn't got to the toilet on her own and struggled to get up and down the stairs.

In her December 2014 claim form she said she 'was always in pain'. The claim form said 'the pain is similar to a boiling pan of water about to simmer and when it boils then I have to stop. It happens within seconds of walking', the court heard.

She also claimed that it took her between one and two hours to get in and out of bed and she needed help dressing.

She said she was only able to do half the 26 half-day sessions as a JP but evidence showed she had worked both half and full days as a magistrate with corresponding expense claims.

Deborah Whitney, DWP lead investigator, went through the claim forms submitted by the defendant in which she told of pain in her shoulders, back, legs and feet.

Howell said she needed her ex-husband and daughter to help her around the house and she needed encouragement to eat and drink. She claimed it had taken her a month to fill in the form because of her problems including poor concentration.

In her early forms she claimed she could walk no more than ten metres without severe discomfort, though later forms reduced this to five metres. She told how she walked more slowly than a pensioner and was often reduced to tears with pain and struggled going out.

Howell, who sat in court with a large bottle of morphine alongside her during the trial, denied she had exaggerated her health problems.

Defence barrister Ian Metcalfe said that Howell has made some repayments to the DWP.

Speaking after the sentencing, George Ward from the Mersey Cheshire Fraud Unit of the Crown Prosecution Service, said Howell's 'reputation is in tatters' and said 'she has only herself and her greed to blame'.

"Let this be a lesson to anyone, whatever their position in society, who thinks they can cheat the system and go unpunished,” he said.

Source with pictures

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