31 Dec 2018

Merseyside's worst benefits cheats 2018

In 2018, benefit cheats, who swindled the public purse out of hundreds of thousands of pounds, were caught and then exposed once they'd gone to court. Often, they had got away with their fraud for years, but justice finally caught up with them, this year. (h/t Dave)

Cheryl Prudham - the former Skelmersdale “Benefits Queen", in January narrowly avoided prison for stealing thousands of pounds from parking meters. It followed the jailing of her ex-boyfriend Robert Prudham, who was locked up for 14 months for theft and fraud offences.

The mum-of-12 was instead handed a suspended sentence after she admitted spending more than £2,200 of stolen cash on an all-inclusive holiday for herself, her kids and her former partner Robert.

Prudham, 34, and who used to live in Skelmersdale, and now has an address in Warrington, got four months jail, suspended for two years, plus a 35-day rehabilitation activity requirement. A judge told her she would have served a jail sentence had she not pleaded guilty.

Cheryl handled £2,241 of the £4,787 her ex-partner Robert admitted siphoning off while working as a money collector, having obtained the job by fraud.

The holiday, for which she paid £7,671, was to Victoria Playa in Santo Tomas, flying from Gatwick Airport on May 16 2014. Her barrister described his client as “deeply ashamed.”

Cheryl appeared on Channel 5 documentary ‘Benefits: Britain’s Most Shameless Mum”, making national headlines in 2015 when it emerged she claims £40,000 a year in benefits. She then appeared on This Morning to appeal for a sperm donor and faced some hard questions from ITV presenter Holly Willoughby who asked her how she slept at night knowing she was receiving so much in benefits.

Cheryl previously admitted she is addicted to getting pregnant, saying she finds men too much hard work after her spouse of six years admitted cheating in a threesome involving his cousin. It was also reported how Cheryl was planning to spend £4,000 on a boob job at Liverpool’s MYA Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, boosting her from a B cup to a 34D. Those cosmetic surgery plans were put on hold, she said, after she went public with her plans to get a boob job and a tummy-tuck using spare cash.

John and Marie Lee cheated the benefits system out of £54,000 and spent the cash on luxury holidays including a trip to Barbados - but they walked free from court. The couple, who were divorced, did not reveal they had moved back in together to the Department for Work and Pensions.

The pair, both aged 70 and from Stockbridge Village, squandered thousands of pounds in tax and pension credits on luxury holidays in Tenerife and Barbados.

Liverpool Crown Court was told they began living together again after he was diagnosed with cancer.

The court heard John received Disability Living Allowance claiming he could barely walk but did not report that his health had improved and he also had savings above the permitted limit.

Detailing the thousands of pounds spent on family holidays in Tenerife and Barbados, David Polglase, prosecuting, pointed out: “They were not living like church mice.”

He said that by not revealing that the couple were co-habiting Marie was overpaid £15,578 tax credits over about five years but he accepted that the claim had not been fraudulent from the start. Her ex-husband’s claim for DLA was also not fraudulent from the beginning but became so when he failed to reveal an improvement in his health.

His claim for pension credits was always fraudulent as he kept quiet about his savings, said Mr Polglase. John, whose claims together involved an over-payment of £39,234, had an Isle of Man bank account in which he was found to have £33,000 savings. The court heard that he had worked off-shore and at one time had £100,000 in that account but he gave that away to relatives when diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.

His wife began receiving tax credits in July 2006 by claiming she was single and only worked a certain amount of hours with a plastics company, said Mr Polglase. She renewed the claim in subsequent years despite the fact that her husband was now back living with her.

John started claiming pension credits in November 2008 saying he was unwell and had no partner and earlier that year he had began receiving higher rate DLA on grounds he could barely walk and needed assistance. He repeated his claims about his mobility in October 2012 and also said that he had cancer and other health issues.

When DWP investigators called at the couple’s two-bedroomed home in Stockbridge Village, in February 2016, they found one bedroom was being used as his office and there was evidence they were sharing the other bedroom. He claimed he had been sleeping on a couch in the conservatory but there was no evidence of that.

The investigators found insurance policies in both their names and a total of £16,000 had been spent on three foreign holiday bookings between 2011 and 2104.

Judge Robert Trevor-Jones sentenced her to six months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered her to carry out 200 hours unpaid work. John was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months and was ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work and ten days rehabilitation activities.

Mum-of-four Nicola Shaw who stole nearly £50,000 of tax credits while working for HMRC was spared jail – because of her children.

The 37-year-old was an administrative officer in the government department’s “claimant compliance team” benefits section. Her job involved claim investigations and sending out forms so claimants could notify the taxman if their circumstances changed. But for six years Shaw pretended to be a single mum after her ex-partner moved back into their Wirral home and they married.

Judge Andrew Menary, QC, today said: “The claim document makes crystal clear that you were obliged to report that fact. The public, reading of this case, would be horrified to discover that somebody occupying that position would have behaved in the way you did. It means you knew full well what your responsibilities were.”

Liverpool Crown Court heard Shaw started a relationship with her ex-partner Richard Hamblett in 1997 and joined HMRC in 1999. David Watson, prosecuting, said the couple bought a house in Caldy Road, West Kirby in 2003 and had their first child in 2004.

They made a legitimate joint tax credit claim in July 2004, before phoning HMRC in November to say Mr Hamblett had moved out. Shaw made a second, initially legitimate claim on December 1, 2004 – stating she was a single mum – which ran until April 6, 2015.

She was required to inform HMRC of any change in circumstances within 30 days and to return an annual declaration form. The benefit cheat falsely completed these annual forms and failed to respond to 39 separate “award notice” checklist letters. The mum, who has no previous convictions, admitted fraud on the first day of a trial on February 12.

However, in a pre-sentence report, she claimed she thought HMRC would have been aware of her position because her name changed. Shaw cried in the dock when Judge Menary said she was “not a good role model for her children”. He criticised her “continued pretence that she had no idea there was a great responsibility on her to report these things”.

Judge Menary handed Shaw seven months in jail, suspended for two years, plus 150 hours of unpaid work and a 15-day rehabilitation activity requirement.

Liverpool couple Bernard Knutsen, 69, and his wife Maureen, 63, who dodged tax and swindled benefits to fund a luxury lifestyle, were ordered to repay £355,000. The pair ran Chaplin's bar on Lodge Lane in Toxteth and a car garage in the city.

Pictures reveal wads of cash found at their home that they used to fund their expensive tastes and jet-settling high-life. The couple’s tax-dodging scheme also netted them many foreign holidays.

They were jailed for a total of seven years for tax and benefit fraud. At a confiscation hearing led by HMRC at Liverpool Crown Court on October 4, Bernard Knutsen was ordered to repay £323,195 within three months or spend another three years behind bars.

£76,459 of this will be paid as compensation to the DWP. Maureen Knutsen must repay £32,929 within three months or face another year in prison.

A search of their home uncovered a wealth of jewellery, including Rolex watches and Royal Mint gold sovereign coins, as well as bundles of cash totalling almost £40,000 stashed in handbags. Investigators also found that the couple had a £50,000 endowment policy, and had placed £20,000 into the bank accounts of their grandchildren.

The couple’s daughter Kelly Knutsen, 39, who was sentenced to 21 months, suspended for two years, for her involvement in the fraud, has been ordered to repay £5,010 within 28 days or face three months in jail. Kelly Knutsen received unexplained money from both businesses into her bank account and owned a £4,000 Rolex watch. She also claimed benefit to cover her rent but failed to declare a second property she owned and rented out.

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