Deaf couple bought holiday home with proceeds of ‘Access to Work’ scam


A deaf woman who helped her husband defraud the government out of nearly £1 million in an ‘Access to Work’ scam is facing jail.

Ethel Neal, 37, and husband Paul, who is also deaf, used their disabilities to help defraud the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by using a registered charity as a front.

Various businesses were used to pocket £1,164,117.18 in grants – £944,641.30 of which was fraudulently claimed – and the Neals were able to buy a holiday home in Ireland through their profits.

Ethel Neal, a former part-time teaching assistant, was unanimously found guilty of three fraud counts by jurors at Southwark Crown Court.

Paul Neal and two other deaf men – Stephen Dering and Russell Parke – have already pleaded guilty to involvement in the case.

Ian Depledge, 60, Yen Hai Lieu, 37, and Jamie Martin, 38, along with sign language interpreter Rosie Coomber, 34, were cleared by the jury of any wrongdoing.

David Aaronberg QC, prosecuting, said: ‘The DWP, via job centres, has a benefits scheme called ‘Access to Work’ which provides advice and practical support to disabled people and their employers to overcome work related barriers due to disability.

‘One of the benefits which may be claimed is reimbursement of payments made to British Sign Language interpreters.’

Mr Neal was the ‘prime mover’ who had the most contact with AtW advisers while the four cleared defendants were found to have been acting blindly under his requests.

His wife ‘exaggerated greatly’ her role in his business to receive a significant benefit as the pair failed to act properly as independent trustees.

‘They acted together, dishonestly abusing the funds which had been obtained from funding organisations,’ Mr Aaronberg said.

Mr Neal’s enterprise Interpreter Online Ltd, which apparently offered online interpreting services to deaf customers, has been described by an accountant as a ‘sham business’, the prosecutor added.

‘It never received a single payment from a customer – in all its time of operation from 2007 to 2011 it did not earn a penny from its business.

‘The only money which it received was the AtW payments which had been obtained by fraud.’

Mr Aaronberg said invoices purportedly for Coomber’s services were entirely fraudulent.

‘The sole purposes for these invoices was therefore to mislead the DWP into believing that support services had been provided when they had not.

‘Rather than being used to reimburse outlay spent on interpreters, the money could be spent to defray any other expenses at the whim of the trustees.’

Ethel Neal was also found to have wrongfully obtained funds for registered charity Deaf Communities Forward from the DWP and two other organisations.

‘She benefitted personally considerably from the false claims which were made on the basis that she – and others – had been given support from interpreters when she had not.

‘She and her husband were able to buy a holiday home in Ireland as a result of utilising AtW benefit payments received which were not in fact needed to reimburse interpreters at all.’

Neal, of Grange Road, South Croydon, south London, was found guilty of three counts of fraud by false representation.

Coomber, of Denision Road, Merton, and Martin, of Plymouth Road, Penarth, Glamorgan, were each cleared of two counts of fraud by false representation.

Depledge, of Warren Drive South, Surbiton, Surrey, and Lieu, of St Agnes Place, Kennington, south London, were found not guilty of a single count of fraud by false representation.

A sentencing date for Neal has not yet been set.