TOO BENT NOT TO SIGN ON, TOO BIG FOR COURT, TOO ILL FOR JAIL
An overweight benefit cheat who was too big for court was declared too ill for jail.
Clinically obese Beverley Douglas, 44, had jobs as a CCTV operator and a bus driver which earned her a salary of around £16,000 but she carried on raking in handouts for five years.
The former businesswoman also faked tenancy agreements to pocket rent on two properties she never lived in.
Douglas, a mother of four, collected £34,000 in benefits.
The judge, Mr Recorder Humfrey Malins gave her a six months in jail suspended for two years after hearing she has been suffering from serious heart problems.
He tried to impose an electronically monitored curfew but changed that to doorstep police checks after hearing the tag could not be attached around her ankle.
Sporting orange-rimmed sunglasses which the fraudster claimed were because of diabetes, wheezing Douglas was allowed to sit on a chair in the well of the court because her size makes if difficult for her to get into the dock.
Judge Malins said: 'I'm permitting you to stay where you are.'
On her first appearance at Inner London Crown Court in May, she refused to enter the old-fashioned Court One.
She told officials she could not climb the stairs to the narrow secure doorway leading to the dock of the Edwardian oak-panelled courtroom.
Today, after parking her red Dodge Avenger outside, she walked with a frame to a more modern courtroom without stairs.
Eileen Sproson, prosecuting, said Douglas claimed £17,071.85 of Income Support from the Department of Work and Pensions, and from Croydon Council £15,930.38 Housing Benefit and £1,787.99 Council Tax Benefit.
She started claiming Income Support in 2002 but in March 2004 failed to declare she had got a job.
'She was working as a CCTV operator,' said the barrister.
'She failed to notify the Department of Work and Pensions that she was working and this would have affected her entitlement.
'She also failed to notify them that between 24 January 2005 and 11 October 2007 she was working full-time as a bus driver.'
She made a claim for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit to Croydon Council on March 29 2006 and between April 10 2006 and October 14 2007 she received an overpayment of £8,896.39.
The prosecutor said on July 4 2008 Douglas submitted a bogus tenancy agreement to claim Housing Benefit for 38 Dunbar Avenue, Norbury.
She faked the landlord's signature on that document and did the same in relation to a second, the neighbouring property at number 40.
The benefit was paid direct to her bank account regularly but she was not living at either address.
Between then and February 26, 2009 she received another £8,821.98.
'The total overpayment being £34,790.22,' said the prosecutor.
A routine tax audit flagged up the discrepancy and she was charged last year.
Abigail Penny, defending, said Douglas' actions were motivated by desperation and the need to provide for her children who were all under 16 at the time.
She said she had suffered years of domestic abuse at the hands of her now estranged husband, who she left in 2000.
'He repeatedly cheated on her,' said the barrister.
'She left him, taking the children elsewhere.
'They had a business together in computer sales and she worked there.
'She effectively became a silent partner and went to work in admin.
'She was working in the day and evenings in call centres to make sure she had enough money to support herself and her children.
'She developed a new relationship with a new man.
'When her daughter was 10 days old her husband returned and tried to get access.
'It culminated in the baby being thrown on the floor.
'She reported his behaviour to police, she having been a victim of domestic violence over the years.'
Douglas was moved to a council flat, but claimed she was forced to find private accommodation after her daughter was threatened.
Ms Penny said: 'She started to work as a bus driver.
'There was no way that her income of £15,000 to £16,000 could cover the rent.'
The barrister said Douglas had viewed two properties in Dunbar road and was planning to move in, and the landlord gave her a blank tenancy agreement.
But then she was admitted to hospital and lost the property to another tenant.
'Effectively she was a desperate woman,' she added.
The barrister said she would have been entitled to around £15,000 working tax credits had she taken the legal option.
She still has two children, aged eight and 15, who she cares for alone.
Judge Malins said: 'The bad thing about these offences apart from the substantial amount you wrongly and dishonestly claimed, is that they took place over a period of some years.
'I have read a long medical report.
'It is apparent to me that you are not well.
'I see the struggles you have with regard to mobility.
'There is constant reference to continuing and serious heart and chest problems.
'You have had the extreme stress of this case hanging over you for a long time.
'A custodial sentence is justified and necessary and I have decided to pass one but suspend it.
'That is because of the personal circumstances of your case.'
Douglas, of Bensham Lane, Thornton Heath, south London, admitted nine counts of making a false representation and two of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances between March 15, 2004 and February 26, 2009.
She denied two charges of making a false representation and she was cleared by the judge, after the prosecution offered no evidence.