Golf captain's £40,000 benefit con

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The Independent Online

A former golf club captain who swindled thousands of pounds in benefits avoided jail today.

Valerie Lewis, 55, from Runcorn, Cheshire, claimed she suffered back pain which made it "virtually impossible" for her to walk unaided outdoors.

But surveillance footage taken by fraud investigators captured Lewis at her golf club - teeing off, playing the fairways and pulling her golf bag without any apparent difficulty.

She was sentenced to 24 weeks in jail, suspended for two years, at Warrington Crown Court today after pleading guilty to dishonestly claiming benefit totalling £40,842.

Charlotte Atherton, for the prosecution, said Lewis made her initial claim for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in March 2001.

On the application form, the defendant said back pain made it difficult for her to walk, dress and wash herself or prepare food without "severe discomfort".

Lewis also claimed she needed help getting into and out of bed, the barrister said.

The mother-of-two then saw a doctor for assessment and claimed she was unable to walk more than 140 yards without having to go bed for the rest of the day.

The court accepted that Lewis had initially suffered a medical problem with her back but "very soon" after making the DLA claim she was playing golf up to three or four times a week, walking up to five miles across the fairways at Sutton Hall Golf Club near her Cheshire home.

Miss Atherton said: "During the course of her claim, she was playing golf very frequently and, in 2001, was riding horses at her local stables.

"She was, of course, awarded DLA on the basis that she could walk no more than 140 yards."

Golf club records and Lewis's own diaries, which were seized by benefit fraud investigators, showed she even played a round of golf the day after her doctor's assessment, Miss Atherton said.

In 2003, the defendant reapplied for DLA and received increased payments after maintaining that walking outdoors was "virtually impossible", Miss Atherton said.

"In fact, Sutton Hall Golf Club records show that less than two weeks later she was playing in a monthly medal competition," she added.

"By 2004, her own diaries record her playing golf up to 11 times a month.

"By 2008, those same diaries showed she was playing golf up to 18 times a month.

"She regularly travelled away to play golf and took part in competitions and in 2008 became the lady captain, a role which meant not only playing golf more regularly but also organising social events.

"Evidence from other members showed she had no difficulty with these tasks."