Jailed For Benefit Fraud

A mother of eight has been jailed for four years after being found guilty of fraudulently receiving more than £350,000 in benefits and tax credits by claiming some of her children had disabilities and conditions.

A judge said Amanda Webber, 43, who was responsible for one of the biggest single benefit fraud overpayments recorded, took advantage of the benefits system.

She fooled authorities by making claims on the basis that five of her eight children suffered disabilities and conditions which affected their care and mobility needs, a five-week trial at Brighton Crown Court heard.

Prosecutors said that despite their reputed health problems, the children led active lives, taking part in PE classes and activities including music, drama and dance without difficulties - and some auditioned for ITV's Britain's Got Talent.

Some also attended fee-paying schools and performed in professional productions on television and on stage, including Les Miserables, The Wizard Of Oz and Billy Elliot, jurors heard.

Yesterday, Webber, from Sussex, was found guilty of 23 out of 24 charges, including fraud, obtaining a money transfer by deception and obtaining property by deception. She was cleared of one count of making a false representation.

Webber received an overpayment of benefits to which she was not entitled of around £353,000 over a 12-year period from 1998, and at the time of her arrest lived in a seven-bedroom property.

The false payments related to disability living allowance (DLA), carer's allowance, tax credits and housing and council tax benefit. Sentencing her, Judge Anthony Niblett said Webber and her family had at one point an income of more than £10,000 a month.

The judge told her: "This is an income which the vast majority of your hard-working, honest fellow citizens can only dream of.''

He added: "These benefits included private education and every material advantage ... including a grand piano and a dance studio in your last home, so as to encourage the undoubted talents of some of your children.''

Judge Niblett said Webber was "undoubtedly a highly intelligent woman'' who had taken advantage of the benefits system.

The judge went on: "You have chosen to have eight children and to live your life as you have but you are not entitled to do so at the expense of your fellow citizens who work hard and struggle on modest incomes.''

Webber blinked hard as sentence was passed by Judge Niblett who said a substantial custodial sentence was needed to act as a deterrent.

Prosecutor Andrew Evans said the Crown would look at launching confiscation proceedings against Webber to recover some of the money.

During the trial, Mr Evans said the acting, dancing and singing required for the children's stage roles were inconsistent with the care and mobility described in claims for DLA.

On claim forms, Webber said some of her children suffered problems with their speech and language, physical disabilities, mental health problems, severe learning disabilities and behavioural problems.

Among the handicaps, phobias and intolerances Webber claimed the children suffered were "can't get dressed'', "can't wash or bathe'', ``poor spatial awareness'', and "poor co-ordination''.

The court heard the schools they attended had no records and were unaware of the children having learning difficulties, or communication and walking problems.

There were no special arrangements for their education or their evacuation in an emergency. In fact, some of the schools did not even cater for disabled children.

In a school report, one of the children was regarded as "outstanding''.

Some of the children journeyed to performing arts school in London, involving them travelling by train from their home town to the capital during rush hour and then by underground.

DVDs seized from Webber's home showed the children from a young age taking part in activities inside and outside home and on holiday without any apparent disability.

Footage showed one of her children swimming despite apparently being frightened of water. Another's activities included ballroom dancing, learning the cha-cha-cha and the waltz.

Despite Webber claiming one of her children disliked crowds and had hip and pelvis problems, they were described as a talented musician and actor who was "a lovely mover'' when they "go for it''.

Webber did not tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about any change or improvement in the conditions in any of the five children during the period when she was receiving DLA for them.

Martin Taube, defending Webber, said he understood a custodial sentence would be imposed but said she would be missed by her children during some of their formative years.

Following yesterday's convictions, David Freud, minister for welfare reform, said: "The vast majority of claimants are honest, but benefit cheats who try to swindle the taxpayer need to know our investigators are targeting them.

"Fraudulently claiming benefits is the same as stealing and taking support from people who actually need it.''