Golf club captain in £40,000 benefits fraud

A FORMER golf club captain who swindled thousands of pounds in benefits avoided jail yesterday.

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 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.

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.

Lewis paid 600 a year to be a member of Sutton Hall, Miss Atherton said.

It was during her captaincy year that the Department for Work and Pensions received a tip-off that Lewis was "fitter than stated" and not entitled to the benefits she received.

A covert surveillance operation was launched which captured the defendant on camera on the fairways and removing her golf clubs from her car.

Lewis was arrested the following year and, although she admitted playing golf, she denied fraud.

David Ackerley, defending, said the fraud arose because Lewis "misunderstood" the meaning of the DLA application forms.

"She was advised to recount the worst case scenario on the forms and that is what she did," he said.

"But that scenario was not the case every day."

The barrister asked for leniency from Judge Stephen Clarke, telling the court that Lewis's husband had suffered three strokes, her mother is blind and her father has terminal cancer.