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Woman jailed for £76,000 benefits fraud

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A BENEFITS cheat who stole nearly £76,000 – the second-largest amount ever to be defrauded from the Social Security Department – has been jailed for 2½ years.

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Delia Browne was told during her sentencing in the Royal Court yesterday that benefits fraudsters were ‘cheating every member of our community’ and that her crime was an ‘affront to everybody who is as badly off as you are but doesn’t cheat’.

The 40-year-old, who stated on Social Security forms that she was separated from her husband and failed to declare that he was living at her St Helier home, was found guilty of two offences under the Income Support (Jersey) Law 2007 following a trial in February.

Her husband Kenneth Browne was acquitted.

Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit said that it was not clear what the fraudulently obtained money had been spent on but added that as Mr Browne was contributing to the family’s living expenses it meant the defendant’s household ‘had a high disposable income’.

An investigation was launched by the Social Security Department after it received an anonymous tip via the fraud reporting hotline in December 2015 that Browne’s husband was living with her.

During an interview with Social Security, the defendant said that Mr Browne would visit daily to help look after the family.

Mr Browne told Social Security that he contributed to household expenses, including for phone and internet services, food shopping and car insurance. He also purchased what the court heard were two high-end-value cars for his family to use, one of which was a £14,000 BMW for the defendant.

However, Browne claimed that apart from £200 per month her husband only paid the pet insurance and for the cars.

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Browne was found guilty of knowingly furnishing false information or withholding material information with intent to obtain an award and failing to disclose a change in circumstances.

Although the court found Browne’s husband had been a member of her household from 2007 to 2013 it was not satisfied that she had the necessary criminal intent until 2012.

Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit said that a custodial sentence was inevitable because it was a substantial benefit fraud over a prolonged period of time and that it was necessary to make an example to deter false claims on the public purse.

‘This is the second-largest sum defrauded from the Social Security Department,’ he said.

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Browne fraudulently obtained a total of £75,760.69, the court was told. She and her husband have paid back £4,100 but monthly repayments stopped last May.

The court heard that although she acknowledged her close family, friends and neighbours would have been unaware of their separation, Browne maintained that she had not done anything wrong.

Advocate Adam Harris, defending Browne – who has been on remand at La Moye since her conviction, said his client was of previous good character with a good work record.

He added that Browne, who was a healthcare assistant, had an excellent reference from her employer which showed she had a ‘willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty’ in a challenging role.

The Bailiff, Sir William Bailhache, was sitting with Jurats Paul Nicolle, Collette Crill, Charles Blampied, Jane Ronge, Elizabeth Dulake and Robert Christensen.

Following the sentencing, Stephen Jackson, Social Security operations director, said the outcome of the case was testament to the hard work of the department’s enforcement team.

He added: ‘The department will always pro-actively combat fraud, no matter if the amount is small or large. The department will consider prosecution where appropriate, as in this case, where co-habitation was identified on a lone-parent claim.’

Krysta Eaves

By Krysta Eaves
author

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