Sunday, 19 February 2012

Traveller jailed for claiming £100k in benefits while she had £180k savings (that she said she was keeping for her children as part of 'a gypsy tradition')

A mother-of-six who was jailed yesterday for claiming more than £96,000 in benefits while she had an 'eye-watering' £173,000 in the bank was following a traveller tradition, a court heard.
Helen Ryan, 40, from Cardiff, pleaded guilty to the fraud at Cardiff Crown Court yesterday and was jailed for 24 weeks.
Over a 10-year period, the out-of-work traveller had claimed around £88,000 in income support and £8,000 in council tax benefits.

Guilty: Traveller Helen Ryan (face covered) at Cardiff Crown Court, was jailed for 24 weeks after claiming over £96,000 in benefits while she had almost double that squirrelled away.
Guilty: Traveller Helen Ryan (face covered) at Cardiff Crown Court, was jailed for 24 weeks after claiming over £96,000 in benefits while she had almost double that squirrelled away
But when the Department For Work and Pensions (DWP) looked into her accounts in 2009 they found £173,000 of savings.
Defending barrister Peter Davies said: 'In the travelling community value is put in saving money for the children. This is a simple case of a parent putting money aside for when the children are older.'
The court heard that Ryan had told officials she was 'minding' a large proportion of the cash for her brother, who had supposedly struck it rich following a series of gambling sessions.
It had been claimed his biggest win was an £11,000 windfall from a flutter at Chepstow Races.
But during a police interview, the court heard her brother James Ryan could not remember the name of the horse or what race it took part in.
Mr Ryan’s account was initially subject to a money laundering investigation, but he was never charged and police decided not to take the matter any further.

Judge David Wynn Morgan said he was not concerned where the money had come from - or who it was claimed to have belonged to.He told the defendant: 'These offences you have pleaded guilty to, only a custodial sentence can be applied.
'Over a 10-year period, £96,479 was dishonestly obtained from the taxpayer.
'From time to time you tried to disguise the existence of this money [the savings].
'Whether it is lawful or not does not matter.
'And irrespective of whether you were holding that money for someone else, it should have been declared.'
Nicked: Ms Ryan was sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court to 24 weeks in jail
Jailed: Ms Ryan was sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court (pictured) to just 24 weeks in prison, but could be out in as little as 12 weeks
Prosecuting barrister Carl Harrison said the defendant had been claiming income support since 1990, but the period of her offending was limited between 2001 and 2010.
Mr Harrison detailed how Ryan had two bank accounts - one with the Post Office and another with the Principality.
The Post Office account was said to be for normal day-to-day usage, while The Principality account was for savings - and had large sums of money deposited in it.
Following an investigation, it was later found Ryan had used her parents’ address in order to open the Principality account.
Mr Harrison argued this had been done in order to try and hide her tracks.
It was also discovered Ryan was the signatory on her children’s accounts - which the most had around £10,000 in - though she had denied their existence to DWP officials.
But Mr Davies said the money in the children’s accounts was 'consistent' with someone who had saved over a long period of time.
Mr Davies also said while his client was from a traveller background, she was now living at a fixed address.
And more important, he added, was that Ryan had pleaded guilty to the offences and the money she had wrongly claimed had now been paid back in full.
'It’s not a case of ‘I can buy my way out of trouble’,' he said.
'It is a readiness to give back what was owed.
'It would perhaps be fair to describe these amounts as eye-watering, but there were relatively few withdrawals made and my client or her family have not lived a lavish lifestyle.
'She seems to be living a very simple and ordinary life.'
Mr Davies also argued that the offence was not as serious as someone who had claimed dole money while being in employment - but said his client accepted she should have declared her savings and was also wrong to make false representations.
Judge Morgan said she will serve half of her 24-week sentence in prison, with the remainder spent on licence.
DWP Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: 'Benefit thieves are costing the taxpayer almost £1 billion per year.
'This money is intended to help those most in need, not line the pockets of criminals.
'We will continue to tackle this problem at the front-line, but also at the root by reforming the benefits system to make it less open to abuse.


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