A 71-YEAR-OLD woman faces jail for cheating taxpayers out of £31,806 in disability benefits after a secret investigator filmed her working fit and well in Tesco.See the video for yourself below
Patricia Kent, of Longmeads Close, Writtle, wrote on her Disability Living Allowance (DLA) form that it took her nearly 60 seconds to walk just five yards using crutches.
Yet a secret investigator spied on the great-grandmother, who was receiving £76.25 a week, as she walked to work after parking her car at Tesco, and walked briskly through the aisles unaided.
Mrs Kent was found guilty of benefit fraud at Chelmsford Crown Court on Monday, and becomes the latest in a long line of people caught cheating the system.
Summing up after Monday's verdict, top Chelmsford judge Christopher Ball QC said: "This is a serious example of its kind of someone milking the system, and for some time, stealing from their fellow citizens."
The court heard that bungalow-bound Mrs Kent, who suffers from various mental and physical illnesses, was first told about DLA in 1994 by a professional at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford.
After her depression worsened, compounded by her father's death in 1999, she started receiving benefits indefinitely from 2000. In 2002 she joined Tesco "to get her out of the house" and worked there for as much as 28-and-a-half hours per week.
But in September 2011, Department of Work and Pensions officer Paul Carlisle embarked on a video investigation following a tip-off from a member of the public.
He filmed her on three occasions, which included following her around Tesco with a phone camera and while driving behind her to Little Waltham four days later.
She was found guilty of not informing the Government of an improvement in her health, of knowingly failing to do so and for acting dishonestly. Prosecuting Jamie Sawyer said: "We accept she may have had difficulties and at times she had periods off work for operations but her disability improved and she failed to inform the authorities.
"She accepted she had worked at Tesco while claiming her allowance and the overpayment was £31,806."
Benefit fraud investigator Paul Carlisle told the court: "I drove to Longmeads Close arriving just before 8am and saw a red Renault parked in the driveway before she drove out just before 9am. I followed the vehicle which stopped in Princes Road, Chelmsford.
"She got out of the car and I noticed she was wearing a Tesco uniform. She got out and she wasn't using any crutches. I followed her to the store where she went into the staff-only entrance at the back."
He said he returned at 9.26am and continued: "I saw her behind the tills processing goods, putting items through. Later, I went to the coffee shop in the vicinity of her till and observed her putting things through normally."
Following Mr Ball's summary, defence solicitor Anthony Abell said: "I simply don't understand what I have just heard." He also claimed in court that the overpayments totalled no more than £5,000.
In 2012/2013, 237 people were sanctioned for benefit fraud – with at least 35 of those prosecuted – across Chelmsford, Maldon and Braintree, while overpayments totalled £698,695.61.
Only two weeks ago, a Braintree benefits cheat pleaded guilty to falsely claiming £28,062.67 in housing and council tax benefits between September 2004 and June 2012.
Carol Thake, of Stanstrete Field, Great Notley, was sentenced to a 15-month suspended sentence, 12 months supervision and 200 hours unpaid work.
A spokesman for Braintree District Council said: "Benefits are intended for those most in need of help, and it is shocking when we see an individual exploiting the system in this way."
Mrs Kent will be sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court on July 8.What do you think? Should Mrs Kent go to jail? Comment below or take part in our poll.