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4 Sep 2019

Hidden camera catches benefit fraudster swindling £17k

A woman secretly filmed by undercover investigators swindled £17,000 in disability benefits, a court heard.

Julie Priest, aged 53, lied about her mobility – but was caught out by undercover surveillance.

She denied benefit fraud but was convicted by a jury after a trial at Plymouth Crown Court.

A judge handed her a suspended prison sentence after hearing she needed mental health treatment – and provided care to her sick husband.

Judge Paul Darlow said: “Over some three years you claimed benefit to which you were not entitled in the sum of about £17,000. You undoubtedly do suffer from Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease but that did not stop you doing several things which you reported that you could not do to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

He handed Priest a 30-week prison sentence suspended for two years, with three months of mental health treatment.

She must also do probation’s Rehabilitation Activity Requirement and pay £100 victim surcharge.

Priest, from Weston Mill, denied dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting her disability benefits between July 2015 and July 2018. She was found guilty after a trial last month.

Emily Pitts, for the Crown Prosecution Service, told the sentencing hearing that the claim was not fraudulent from the outset.

She added: “She managed her condition to such an extent that her mobility had improved, as was shown on the undercover footage.”

The barrister said that the DWP has launched legal action under the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover the money overpaid to Priest.

Katie Churcher, for Priest, said the claim started off as genuine but her client’s health improved. She added that the defendant suffered from COPD but still acted as carer for her poorly husband. The court heard that she had been recommended for mental health treatment.

Miss Churcher said that Priest questioned whether the level of overpayment was as high as £17,000. The barrister added that she may have been entitled to some benefits at a lower rate – rather than nothing at all. Miss Churcher said the sum overpaid could be worked out at the Proceeds of Crime hearing.

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