Ethel McGill, 68, of Cheshire, is pictured in her acting profile on the StarNow website
An amateur actress who stole £740,000 from taxpayers by conning the authorities into believing her dead father was alive and still eligible for his benefits has been jailed for nearly six years.
Ethel McGill, 68, from Runcorn in Cheshire went to extreme lengths to continue claiming late father Robert Dennison’s war pension and benefits after his death in 2004.
McGill, who was sentenced to five years today after being convicted as the UK’s biggest ever benefits cheats, even asked a friend to lay under a blanket and pretend to be her dead father.
The ‘sophisticated fraudster’ also feigned dementia and mobility issues for more than two decades to steal money from the public.
She was caught out when DWP investigators filmed her moving around and even driving, despite claiming she needed a wheelchair.
McGill arrived in a wheelchair when she appeared at Liverpool Crown Court today, burying her face in a pack of incontinence pads in an attempt to avoid being photographed.
She was given a 70 month prison sentence after pleading guilty to 21 offences.
Covert surveillance revealed how McGill could walk around unaided despite claiming she was confined to a wheelchair and couldn’t drive in order to claim mobility allowance
Judge Steven Everett told McGill: ‘Part of your problem is that nobody, including me, believes that you are ill, and that you have been putting this on for years.
‘Your devious behaviour, with very little remorse, has caught up with you and now you will have to pay the penalty.
‘With breathtaking dishonesty you decided to use your father’s death to your financial benefit, what a terrible thing to do.
‘It wasn’t even for a short amount of time – for year after year you, in a sense, sullied your father’s name – he was entitled to a war pension.
‘When the authorities came to your house to see your father you got somebody to lie in that bed and pretend to be your elderly father and you put the authorities off by persuading them not to approach that person.’
Judge Everett also noted how badly the years-long fraud reflected on investigating authorities, but told McGill the dishonesty fell at her door.
He said: ‘The authorities may look at themselves and wonder how they let this happen and they don’t come out of this at all well but the whole dishonesty come down to you – you did it.’
Pictured: Ethel McGill arriving at Chester courts for sentencing, still insisting on a wheelchair
Defence barrister Dan Gaskell accepted that a custodial sentence was inevitable but asked Judge Everett to consider a short sentence for McGill, who he added had never lived a ‘lavish lifestyle’ despite fraudulently claiming nearly a quarter of a million pounds.
He said: ‘She lives in fairly straightened circumstances. There is no indication that she has lived a life of excess.’
But Judge Everett rejected that defence, pointing out that ‘the average man on the street’ earning a £30,000 salary would need to work 40 years to make over £1million – while McGill had made nearly a quarter of that in little more than a decade.
He told the court: ‘The point I’m trying to make is for 12 years she received way more than the average working person in the street is getting.
‘I think she needs to understand it’s no good saying to me she’s in straightened circumstances now when she received a huge amount of money from the public purse.’
Summing up his sentence, he added: ‘The message has to be sent out to you and others like you that if you steal from the public purse, not only is imprisonment inevitable but a substantial sentence must be passed.’
In an earlier statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said it was one of the largest ever cases of benefits fraud by a single person ever recorded.
Stephen Pendered, of the CPS, said: ‘This is the largest case of benefit fraud by a single person that I have prosecuted.
‘Not content with receiving her father’s pensions, housing and tax benefits under false pretences, Ethel McGill made good use of her amateur dramatic skills by feigning dementia to succeed in her own fraudulent benefit claims.
‘Over the course of 25 years, McGill shamelessly received £750,000 of public money she knew full well she was not entitled to.
‘The lengths Ethel McGill and her family went through to cheat a system designed for people in need is truly staggering.
‘However, we were able to dismantle their deception one lie at a time.
‘We hope this prosecution will help the public to have confidence that those who cheat the public purse will face the full force of the law.
‘The CPS will now endeavour to ensure taxpayers get some of their money back by pursuing McGill under the Proceeds of Crime Act.’
Her trial heard how officials became suspicious when, during repeated visits McGill made excuses about why her father was not at home.
They began investigating and surveillance teams captured McGill out shopping, driving, walking and carrying armfuls of boxes and wooden shelving near her bungalow, in Runcorn, Cheshire.
They also discovered her acting profile on the StarNow website, in which she declared she had performed in many roles in amateur plays, ranging from ‘a very hard hearted Glasgow woman to being a very timid domestic abuse victim.’
Chester Crown Court heard that even when arrested, in March 2016, McGill kept up the pretence, telling police Mr Dennison was ‘away at the caravan’ and feigning walking difficulties as police tried to take her to the cells. In reality Mr Dennison had died, aged 82, in April 2004.
The court heard McGill, who is originally from Glasgow, spent a month at a mental health hospital following her arrest, before five psychiatrists concluded there was nothing wrong with her. She has also since been diagnosed with ‘fictitious illness disorder’.
She attended her trial in a wheelchair, but the judge questioned whether she was still ‘putting it on’.and warned he would jail her when she is sentenced later this month. She admitted 14 counts of fraud and money laundering in June.
Judge Steven Everett, the Recorder of Chester, told her she was a ‘very devious woman.’
‘I’m sure you know what’s going on Ethel McGill,’ he said. ‘Listen to me, you are insulting my intelligence.’
Judge Everett added: ‘Let’s be crystal clear, I’m going to send her to prison. It’s like a spider’s web and she is at the heart of it.’
The court heard McGill’s fraud dated back to 1993 when she told officials she was confined to a wheelchair and couldn’t drive in order to claim mobility allowance.
More than £590,000 was obtained in her dead father’s name and included attendance allowances, housing and council tax benefits, plus his independent living fund care package, a war pension and council pension from when he worked as a binman.
Another £125,000 was claimed by McGill in DLA, plus another £27,000 was paid to her son, Christopher McGill, 28, in carer’s allowances for looking after her.
Surveillance teams captured McGill out shopping, driving, walking and carrying armfuls of boxes and wooden shelving
McGill also persuaded Hannah Bazley, 25, the girlfriend of her other son, Anthony, 29, to help her con her GP and apply for a care package to support her fictitious dementia.
The pair hijacked the identity of an innocent woman to secure her national insurance number and make the fake claim, which totalled £3,700 over four months in 2014.
In a statement to the court, McGill claimed the money she claimed had gone to ‘worthy causes’, but prosecutors remain baffled as to what exactly she spent the cash on.
They said McGill, who has previous convictions for benefit fraud and obtaining property by deception, for which she received an eight month jail term, lived in a modest bungalow and there was ‘no evidence’ of a lavish lifestyle.
Stephane Pendered, spokesman for the CPS, said: ‘This is the largest case of benefit fraud by a single person.
‘Not content with receiving her father’s pensions, housing and tax benefits under false pretences, Ethel McGill made good use of her amateur dramatic skills by feigning dementia to succeed in her own fraudulent benefit claims.’