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16 Mar 2020

Benefit cheat must pay back £20,000 she swindled

A benefit cheat has been ordered to pay back £20,000 after she was secretly filmed by undercover investigators.

Julie Priest, aged 54, lied about her disability to pocket almost £35,000, a court heard.

She has already been handed a suspended prison sentence after a judge heard she needed mental health care – and also provided care for her sick husband.

Now Priest has been dragged back to Plymouth Crown Court for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

She accepted that she had pocketed £34,844 in disability benefits to which she was not entitled over three years in disability benefit.

Priest was sentenced back in September on the basis that she had cheated the Department for Work and Pensions out of £17,000. But the figure has been revised after complex recalculations and negotiations between prosecution and defence.

Emily Pitts, for the Crown Prosecution Service, told the latest hearing that she had assets of £20,000 in her share of equity in a jointly-owned house. The barrister said that sum was based on the lowest estate agent’s valuation.

Judge Paul Darlow ordered that Priest pay £20,000 within three months – the longest time possible.

He added that she would face seven months in prison if she did not pay.

Judge Darlow said: “I am sure it will not come to that.”

Priest 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 in August.

The jury heard that she suffered from Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease but exaggerated the impact it had on her life. She was caught out by undercover surveillance.

Priest was handed a 30-week prison sentence suspended for two years, with three months of mental health treatment. She was also ordered to complete probation’s Rehabilitation Activity Requirement and pay £100 victim surcharge.

Source with pictures

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