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Benefit cheat told 'repay cash or do time in jail'

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: October 25, 2012

EXETER Crown Court.

EXETER Crown Court.

A PILOT'S wife who swindled £40,000 in benefits while living in Dubai has been ordered to repay it or go to jail.

Theresa McCulloch, 51, claimed the money over several years, while she was spending much of her time with her Egyptian husband at their second home in the Middle East.

Now she is having to raise more than £30,000 from the equity in her home in North Devon to repay the British taxpayer.

McCulloch, of Barlandsway, Dolton, admitted making a false statement and failing to declare a change of circumstance when she appeared before magistrates in Barnstaple in April and received a suspended sentence.

She appeared before Recorder Mr John Williams at Exeter Crown Court to face confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The recorder was told she has already repaid £14,000 voluntarily. He ordered her to pay a further £32,404.81 within six months or go to jail for 15 months and to pay £300 costs.

Emily Pitts, for the prosecution, said that after adjustment for inflation the total amount McCulloch had benefited by was £46,044.97 and the amount available to her was calculated at £36,521.02, of which £36,269.75 was equity in her house.

She said £25,150.90 would be paid as compensation to the Department of Work and Pensions and the rest to the Assets Recovery Agency.

Miss Pitts said: "This has been brought about by her own conduct.

"If she were to continue repaying at a rate of £150 a month it would take 14 years to recover these amounts."

Richard Shepherd, for the defence, said the amount she is said to owe was greater than what she had actually been paid because inflation was included and calculated on the higher figure of consumer price inflation rather than the retail price index.

He said the order would leave her stretched financially.

During the original case the court heard McCulloch has only spent 23 weeks and five days since October 2006 in the UK because her husband is a pilot based in Dubai.

In that time she claimed the money as disability and mobility allowance on behalf of her daughter and a carer's allowance.

In total she had received £38,791.06 in benefits she was not entitled to.

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