Snorkelling benefits cheat Linda Hoey given a suspended sentence –and a telling off from judge
A mother of four, who went snorkelling in the Maldives while illegally pocketing up to £81,000 worth of disability benefits, walked free from court after a tongue lashing by a judge today.
Telltale photographs of Linda Hoey’s holidays on the sun-kissed Indian atolls and in Egypt revealed the lie she had been living for 15 years while claiming to be barely able to walk.
The racket saw her collect £65,244 of Disability Living Allowances by deliberately exaggerating the effects of arthritis and other complaints it is accepted she suffers from.
This allowed her to receive an exemption pass under false pretences and rack up a further £15,690 worth of free travel on the M6 Toll Road.
The 58-year-old twice married mother of four alleged that severe arthritis and back problems meant it took her four minutes to walk as many metres.
She also maintained she could not perform simple household chores or even get dressed without assistance, needed a walking stick at all times and help to climb stairs.
In fact she had worked full time at PartsWorld in Orbital Way, Cannock for 17 years and regularly drove alone to the office along the M6 Toll Road for free.
Recorder Michael Elsom told her: “Hard-working people feel revulsion for people like you who deliberately hide the truth from the public purse.
“The fact that you are now shunned by your neighbours comes as no surprise what so ever.
“You are somebody whose word cannot be trusted.”
He continued: “What an example you have set for your children. The photographs portrayed a completely different way of life to that portrayed by you, your husband and son.
“The assertions you made were nothing but bare faced lies which you continued during your trial. You have not shown any remorse at any stage.”
But the judge accepted that the benefits claims had not been fraudulent from the outset but she had not been honest as her condition improved.
He also accepted that her genuine health issues would have made prison far harsher for her than many others.
The Department of Work and Pensions launched an investigation after a tip off and discovered the telltale photographs showing Hoey snorkelling stored on her computer.
There were other snaps of Hoey on her knees altering her daughter's wedding dress and bent over a snooker table with a cue in her hands that revealed the true extent of her mobility.
Mr Anthony Cartin, prosecuting, told Stafford Crown Court during her trial in July: "She had been working full time from 1997 in a desk job doing the exact thing – sitting for a long time in the same position – she said she could not do without pain. She has lied and exaggerated, cheating you, me and the public out of money from the public purse."
Stewart Halstead, her former boss at PartsWorld – she left in 2014 – said in evidence he did not know Hoey had long-term health problems and had never seen her use a stick. He also said she walked up the office's spiral staircase carrying a tray of hot drinks.
Mr Cartin told the defendant during her trial: "You have some health issues but you exaggerated the impact on your daily life because you know what you have to say to get disability living allowance."
She retorted: "I have not been dishonest. My mobility has got worse. I cannot walk without severe discomfort but perhaps I could have explained things a lot better on the forms I filled in."
Hoey from Talland Avenue, Armington, Tamworth was unanimously found guilty by the jury of fraudulently misrepresenting her benefit claim between 2001 and 2015 and misusing an exemption pass for the M6 Toll Road between 2004 and 2015.
She was given an 18-month prison sentence suspended for two years with a six-month night time curfew.
A restraining order has been put on her property – including her home, a narrow boat – pending a a Proceeds of Crime hearing scheduled for January.
Mr David Pedley, senior fraud manager for the Midlands, vowed: “We will make sure she pays back every penny. We have charges on her house and narrow boat and she could face losing one or both of those on top of now having the stigma of being a benefit fraud.”