Benefit cheat who fiddled £22k evades prison after appeal
BENEFIT cheat Angela Elshaw has won her appeal against a 12-week prison sentence – after fiddling nearly £22,400 of taxpayers' money to pay off debts.
She was jailed by Grimsby magistrates on October 26 – but did not actually serve any of the prison term because she was freed on bail 20 minutes later pending an appeal.
She had, however, been taken down to the cells in floods of tears.
Elshaw, 48, of Bransdale Way, Grimsby, admitted two offences of failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting her entitlement to benefit and another of making a false statement, on dates between May 31, 2009, and December, 2011.
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She won her appeal at Grimsby Crown Court against the sentence.
Recorder Paul Miller, sitting with two magistrates, said they had "narrowly" decided that the original prison sentence would now be suspended. A six-month 7pm to 7am curfew was added.
Graham Pressler, prosecuting for the Department for Work and Pensions, said Elshaw fraudulently claimed £22,395 in Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit.
The claim was at first legitimate but later became dishonest. Elshaw and her husband, Michael, separated for a time and she claimed benefits as a person who was living alone.
But there was later a reconciliation between the pair and he moved back into the family home, said Mr Pressler.
Elshaw did not tell the authorities that this had happened and used the extra cash from wrongly- paid benefits to help pay off debts.
Defence barrister Simon Hirst said Elshaw made early admissions and was repaying £80.50 a week. A total of £717.50 had so far been paid back.
Elshaw originally fell in to debt because her home on the Willows estate was flooded and she did not have any insurance. She built up debts of £4,500 from catalogues and loans but claimed she did not tell her husband about them.
Elshaw kept quiet to the authorities about his return home and "took the easy option" of continuing to claim benefits.
She was now working as a cleaner and her husband was also working.
"It's been on her mind every night that she might be going to prison," said Mr Hirst.
"In some ways, it might have been easier if she had just done the sentence there and then.
"She knows what she did was wrong and describes herself as disgusted with herself."
At the original court hearing, presiding magistrate Jo Walker told Elshaw: "We have considered all our sentencing options. This offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence is appropriate.
"It's a large amount of taxpayers' money and this fraud continued over a long period."
In allowing the appeal, Recorder Miller stressed that there was no criticism of the magistrates and said their original 12-week prison sentence was "within the guidelines".
But he said that he and his colleagues took account of Elshaw's previous good character and that her financial affairs had been "complicated" through no fault of her own.