Stoke & Staffordshire

Crewe pastor Stephanie Meakin did 'hokey cokey' while claiming disability allowance

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Media captionChurch pastor Stephanie Meakin was filmed by the Department of Work and Pensions

A pastor who dishonestly claimed £37,000 in benefits because she was in "crippling pain" danced the Hokey Cokey at a church Christmas party.

Stephanie Meakin, from Crewe, lied about her mobility for 11 years - during which time she was also seen wading into the sea for baptisms and jogging to a bank.

Recorder Mary Loram, at Liverpool Crown Court, said she was a "thoroughly dishonest woman".

Meakin was sentenced to 15 months, suspended for a year.

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The court heard she legitimately began receiving Disability Living Allowance at the highest rate in 1995 due to severe back trouble, which had significantly improved by 2001.

Exercised Rottweiler

She denied dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstances.

The 51-year-old, of Springwell Close, was seen wearing high heels, walking up a steep hill and exercising her Rottweiler.

She also went on a church mission to South Africa, during which she had a "luxury" visit to the Kruger National Park, and twice flew to see relatives in her homeland of the Philippines, jurors heard.

"The evidence was overwhelming, but you persisted in the lie to the jury that throughout you were in crippling pain," Ms Loram told her.

The court heard she was deeply religious and established the Church of Abundant Life in Crewe after moving to the UK to marry her husband.

When department of work and pensions investigators raided her home, they uncovered a life insurance application form on which she stated that, apart from high blood pressure, she had no on-going health problems and exercised several times a weeks.

Defending, Andrew Higginson said Meakin's daughter had since disowned her but her sons were standing by her.

He said Meakin suffers from "widespread pain syndrome", depression, has mild to moderate disability and now lives with one of her sons.

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