Cleared mum now faces civil court claims

A HUNTINGDON mother-of-four, acquitted last week of dishonestly obtaining more than £50,000 in welfare benefits, now faces civil action to recover the money. Thelma Armstrong, 37, of Essex Road, who could not be identified until the conclusion of the tria

A HUNTINGDON mother-of-four, acquitted last week of dishonestly obtaining more than £50,000 in welfare benefits, now faces civil action to recover the money.

Thelma Armstrong, 37, of Essex Road, who could not be identified until the conclusion of the trial last Thursday, shook and wept as she was cleared at Peterborough Crown Court.

A jury found her not guilty of seven counts of dishonestly making representations to obtain £15,522 in housing benefit and £2,386 in Council Tax benefits from Huntingdonshire District Council between November, 1998 and May, 2003.

She was also acquitted of dishonestly failing to notify a change in her circumstances to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that led to her being overpaid nearly £32,660 between November, 2001 and April, 2004.


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A DWP spokesman said after the case: "The DWP will take action to recover money that has been overpaid due to a failure to declare information".

HDC said it would take similar action. "Even if the court found that it was not dishonest, it was still an overpayment," said the council's fraud chief investigator, Nick Jennings.

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The overpayments totalled £51,568, the judge at Peterborough Crown Court, Recorder Justin Rouse, was told.

Robert Rabe, prosecuting for the Department for Work and Pensions and HDC, had said the woman had left blank spaces on claims forms where she could have identified her partner on eight separate occasions.

But her partner's address on the birth certificates of all four children born during that period was the same as hers. He had registered his car at the same address. His employers had the same address for him. And he had registered a company there with him as a director and her as company secretary. A joint bank account was also registered to the same address.

Mr Rabe had said that, when interviewed by fraud investigators, she had said the man stayed with her three or sometimes four nights a week.

"Any time he did not spend there was because of business commitments outside the area. It is obvious that they were living as husband and wife. She should have listed him as her partner on each of the appropriate forms and whenever she was questioned and should have indicated to the DWP that he was living with her," Mr Rabe told the jury.

"But she knew it would have affected her benefits if she did."

Ms Armstrong said her home was an address of convenience, an assertion supported by her mother, sister and two friends and accepted by the jury.

She refused to comment after the trial.

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