Prison for woman who made £33,000 of false benefit claims

A new date for the Gittisham murder trial will be set at Exeter Crown Court on July 31

A new date for the Gittisham murder trial will be set at Exeter Crown Court on July 31 - Credit: Archant

A woman fiddled benefit claims has been jailed after being filmed shopping when she claimed to be too disabled to move.

Ann Hooper swindled £33,000 by making false claims not only for herself but for her two adult sons, one of whom was strong enough to pull his Motability car with a rope.

She claimed the two boys were unable to get out of wheelchairs but one was seen walking a mile into town on his own without a stick and the other went on two adventure holidays to Canada, a court heard.

Her son Aaron was a regular gym user who featured in an Instagram post in which he demonstrated his strength by pulling his taxpayer-supplied  Motability car across the car park on a tow rope.

Hooper was jailed at Exeter Crown Court where a judge told her she was fundamentally dishonest and that her attempts to lie her way out of trouble had been ridiculous nonsense.

The family all claimed disability or personal independence benefits for three years until they were caught by a surveillance operation mounted by Department of Work and Pension investigators.

They released two short clips showing Hooper shopping at a supermarket in Axminster on the days before and after she had an assessment of her level of disability at her home.

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She told the nurse carrying out the test that she had such poor mobility she could not get onto a sofa and that she could only walk a maximum of 20 metres with the aid of a stick.

Hooper, aged 49, of Bonners Glen, Axminster, denied three counts of benefit fraud but was found guilty by a jury at Exeter Crown Court last month.

She was jailed for nine months by Judge Timothy Rose, who told her: “You must have known the claims were untrue and dishonest and you failed to correct that.

“It spanned two years or so in a way which was so fundamentally dishonest that it is almost impossible to know where to start. The claims were demonstrably untrue.

“You proceeded to lie throughout the trial as if you were ignoring the reality of the situation. You lied extravagantly to the jury. It was ridiculous.”

During the trial, the jury were shown videos of 31-year-old Aaron lifting heavy weights at a gym in Chard and walking unaided through Axminster with a guitar slung on his back.

There was footage of Ryan, aged 23, walking around the Honiton Show for more than an hour with only a mild limp and social media posts showing him standing in minus 16 degree temperatures. He had also flown to Taiwan on another holiday.

Both brothers were filmed secretly wandering around the back balcony of their home with no visible disability.

Hooper told the jury the claims were genuine and the boys were testing their ability to endure pain when they were filmed.

Mr Barry White, defending, said all three had some genuine disabilities and would have been entitled to some benefits, if not those they claimed.

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