Ex-golf captain sentenced for disability benefit con

A former golf club captain who claimed £40,842 in disability allowance while playing up to four times a week has been given a suspended jail sentence.

Valerie Lewis, 55, of Runcorn in Cheshire, claimed she could barely walk but was filmed playing at Sutton Hall Golf Club.

Lewis, of Picton Avenue, pleaded guilty at Warrington Crown Court to failing to report a change in her circumstances.

She was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison, suspended for two years.

The court heard that she had received Disability Living Allowance (DLA) since March 2001, before she was caught by surveillance in November 2008.

In statements supporting her claim, Lewis told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that walking outdoors was virtually impossible and she needed support getting in and out of bed and the bath.

Five-mile walks

But in 2008, the DWP received a tip-off that she was fitter than she told them and was actually the Lady Captain at Sutton Hall Golf Club.

Lewis was due to go on trial but in December pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to report a relevant change of circumstances, thereby dishonestly claiming benefit totalling £40,842.

Image caption Lewis was given a suspended sentence

Charlotte Atherton, prosecuting, said Lewis had cited back pain that made it difficult to walk, dress and wash herself or prepare food without "severe discomfort".

During an assessment with a doctor, Lewis claimed she could not walk more than 140 yards (128m) without needing to go to bed.

The court accepted she had suffered a back problem but was soon walking up to five miles across the fairways every time she played golf.

She was also seen riding horses in 2001 and golf club records - as well as own diaries - backed up evidence of her activities.

In 2003, Lewis reapplied for DLA after insisting that walking outdoors was "virtually impossible", Miss Atherton said.

"In fact, Sutton Hall Golf Club records show that less than two weeks later she was playing in a monthly medal competition," she added.

'Misunderstood forms'

"She regularly travelled away to play golf and took part in competitions and in 2008 became the lady captain, a role which meant not only playing golf more regularly but also organising social events.

"Evidence from other members showed she had no difficulty with these tasks."

After being caught on the fairways by the DWP covert surveillance, Lewis was arrested in 2009 - but denied fraud.

David Ackerley, defending, said his client had "misunderstood" the benefit application forms and was listing the "worst case scenario" they asked for.

"But that scenario was not the case every day," he added.

He asked for leniency in sentencing, telling the court that his client's husband had suffered three strokes, her mother is blind and her father has terminal cancer.

Judge Stephen Clarke, sentencing, suspended the prison term "as a measure of sympathy".

"This case brings shame and disgrace on you," he added.

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