Former mayor says sorry for benefit fraud
A FORMER St Austell mayor, who was fitted with an electronic tag after she admitted cheating thousands of pounds out of the benefit system, has apologised.
Jill Trewhella, 59, of Springfield Close, was electronically tagged under curfew for the next three months after she admitted taking £4,418 in Disability Living Allowance.
Since last week's dramatic fall from grace she has apologised and resigned from her post as town councillor representing Bethel ward.
In a statement she said that although the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) recognised she has a disability, it believed a 2009 operation on an arthritic knee had improved her mobility and her failure was not telling them.
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The statement continued that she was "determined to continue with my voluntary activities".
"The timing of the surgery and the distraction this activity caused resulted in me forgetting that I had an obligation to notify the DWP of an apparent improvement in my mobility. The knee surgery had no beneficial impact on the arthritis in my lower spine and my fibromyalgia (chronic pain syndrome).
"I have a range of degenerative medical problems but failed to notify the DWP of an apparent improvement in one of them.
"I would like to apologise to anybody who is affected by my failure. My enthusiasm for voluntary activities in St Austell remains undiminished despite my health problems, she added.
She also thanked family, friends and colleagues who had offered their support at this "challenging time".
The former mayor and deputy mayor, who began claiming benefits in July 2004 because of ill health including fibromyalgia, lumbar spondylosis, frozen shoulder and arthritis in the left knee, was covertly filmed going about her business without impediment following a tip-off.
Last Friday 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.
Surveillance showed she had walked at quick pace, got in and out of a vehicle unaided, carried boxes with both hands and climbed stairs without using a handrail.
Prosecutor, Alison May, said the footage was in conflict with her claim that said she was in severe discomfort when walking, especially on uneven ground.
Polly Morley, for the defence, told the court: "This is clearly a high-profile case. She has degenerative conditions that are not going to get any better. She said the claim was "not fraudulent" and her client was looking to make a new one.
Businessman Steve Hurst said the former civic chief's "unselfish and unpaid work and dedication" to the town meant she would be "a hard seat to follow".
St Austell mayor John Keast said she had "made a huge contribution to the life of St Austell" since becoming a councillor in 2009.
"Her mayoral year in 2010 –11 was noted for her advocacy of the town, and for the money she raised for charity. The council wishes to thank her for her past work."
Trewhella was ordered to repay the money, £4,000 of which she did on Friday. Her curfew runs until December 13.