A woman who swindled £77,000 in handouts by claiming she couldn’t walk while winning martial arts competitions is jailed for 15 months.
Claire Thomas, 47, was found guilty of seven charges of defrauding the Department for Work and Pensions with a jury taking just 26 minutes to make the decision.
She was jailed for 15 months today after a hearing at Gloucester Crown Court.
The court heard Thomas won a bronze and a gold regional medal in karate’ and was filmed competing throughout May 2013 when claiming benefits
Jurors had found that she was not entitled to any of the benefits she claimed on the grounds that she was a jobless single parent and that she suffered from asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes.
During a three day trial the jury saw secretly filmed video of her looking perfectly able bodied as she left her home, drove her car, went to karate club sessions and took part in training and competition bouts.
She was also seen smoking and kissing her husband Kevin – whom she maintained did not live with her and did not contribute to her household.
Thomas, of Willow Avenue, had denied that she was maintaining a ‘common household’ with her husband between 2007 and 2013, and also claimed to be so disabled she could not walk without assistance due to brittle asthma.
Thomas would collect a gold medal for her efforts but has been prosecuted because she was unaware benefit fraud investigators were filming her
Extraordinary footage of the benefits cheat sparring with other martial artists in a sports centre
But the surveillance video showed her husband arriving at her address in the evening and leaving in the morning – just like most normal working husbands and partners – on every day that they monitored the property.
The court heard today from Probation Officer Jo Hall that Thomas intended to ‘commit suicide anyway that she can’ if she went to prison but an approved mental health social worker, Terry Sprason, said he had assessed her this morning and found ‘no treatable mental disorder.’
Her suicidal ideation was a response to her present situation, he said.
Ms Hall went on to say that Thomas maintained her innocence and did not accept her crime. Ms Hall said there was no alternative but to propose an immediate custodial sentence.
The judge, Recorder Gordon Bebb QC told Thomas ‘Stay seated. You have been found guilty by the jury of seven counts of benefit fraud.
‘That is based on two lies. Firstly that you were living on your own, when you were living with your husband.
‘The second lie is that you had the same disability as on your original declaration (when she first applied for benefits) and that you needed round the clock care. That became very far from the case.
The judge said her offending was ‘determined and widespread.’
He added ‘You milked the system as much as you could for years. People like you cause the public to lose faith in the benefit system. You were taking taxpayer’s money that could have gone elsewhere.
‘This is so serious only custody is justified, given the extent of benefits obtained and the time it went on.
‘Another aggravating feature is that in 1998 you were convicted of a benefit fraud [she received a three year conditional discharge at Bristol Magistrates] and that was a warning shot across your bows.
‘My total sentence is 15 months’ the judge concluded.
Thomas blew a kiss to the public gallery as she was taken down to the cells to start her sentence.