Manchester

'Disabled' Stockport magistrate in £26k benefit fraud

Sandra Howell Image copyright Lynda Roughley
Image caption Sandra Howell was brought into court in a wheelchair but the jury was shown footage of her walking unaided

A "deceitful" former magistrate who lied about her mobility to cheat the benefits system out of more than £26,000 has been jailed.

Sandra Howell, 46, claimed the payments while working as a domestic cleaner in Greater Manchester.

The former Stockport magistrate was brought into court in a wheelchair, but footage was played to the jury showing her walking across the court precincts.

The mother-of-one was jailed for nine months at Liverpool Crown Court.

Howell, of Stockport Road in Marple, Cheshire, was convicted of two fraud offences following a trial.

Her offending was carried out while she served at Stockport Magistrates' Court between 2011 and 2016.

The court heard she had stated in benefits application forms that she could barely walk and needed round-the-clock care following a road traffic accident in 2007.

Image copyright DWP
Image caption CCTV from the Department for Work and Pensions showed Howell walking and getting into her car

However, CCTV surveillance footage showed her walking around at the Trafford Centre shopping mall, faster than other shoppers, and also working on her driveway.

'Fraudster'

The jury also heard evidence from former cleaning customers for her business, Abacus, including a head teacher who had been to Howell's wedding and saw her dancing.

Judge David Aubrey, QC, described her as "a fraudster" and said her actions had been "a sham" and "deceitful throughout".

Howell sat in the dock with her eyes closed as the judge told her: "You were administering the law, presiding over cases and sitting in judgement on those before you, no doubt on occasions having to determine whether the evidence was so serious that only an immediate custodial sentence could be justified.

"No doubt on occasions having defendants in front of you charged with offences for which you now fall to be sentenced.

"During much of that time while you were supposedly administering the law you were breaking the law, repeatedly committing criminal acts by defrauding the state.

"You were stealing from the state. Between February 2013 and October 2016 you were paid higher rate Disability Living Allowance and received £26,539, money that you were not entitled to."

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