Former St Austell mayor admits £4,418 benefits fraud
A former mayor who fiddled thousands of pounds out of the benefit system by claiming she had difficulty walking will be electronically tagged under curfew for the next three months.
Jill Frances Trewhella, 59, a town councillor, former mayor and deputy mayor of St Austell, Cornwall, yesterday admitted conning £4,418 in disability living allowance.
She had failed to tell the Department of Work and Pension (DWP) her mobility had improved.
Following a tip-off DWP inspectors secretly filmed her going about her business without hindrance.
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Trewhella, of Springfield Close, St Austell, walked into Truro Magistrates Court with the aid of a stick accompanied by her daughter. She pleaded guilty to one count of failing to promptly notify the DWP of a change in circumstances which would affect her benefit between February 3 2010 and January 24 2012.
Alison May, prosecuting, said Trewhella began claiming benefits in July 2004 stating she had fibromyalgia, lumbar spondylosis, frozen shoulder, arthritis in the left knee, chronic pain syndrome and back problems.
Ms May said the defendant signed claim forms that said she was in severe discomfort when walking, especially on uneven ground.
She said: "Surveillance later showed her not in the state she claimed. She walked unaided at a quick pace, got in and out of a vehicle unaided, carried boxes with both hands, frequently climbed stairs without using a handrail.
"Clearly, this was in conflict with her claim."
Polly Morley, defending, said her client had become a town councillor and mayor to "give something back to the town of St Austell" and had "held her hands up" to the offence.
She said her client had good and bad days when it came to her health.
Ms Morley said: "This is clearly a high-profile case. She has degenerative conditions that are not going to get any better.
"She is a lady who has a disability.
"The claim was not fraudulent. From the outset, it was a legitimate claim.
"Indeed she is looking at making a new claim."
Magistrates told Trewhella she must repay the money – £4,000 of which she did yesterday – and her curfew would run from 7pm–7am on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until December 13.
She was also ordered to pay £105 court costs.