Judge praises dole fiddle couple who exposed £60,000 scam
A young couple who were drawn into a £60,000 benefits swindle have escaped punishment after they helped investigators clear up the case.
James Tugwood, aged 27, and his wife Joanna, aged 22, were pressured into allowing their names to be used in the plot to fiddle housing benefit and income support.
They agreed to help Tugwood’s father Roderick and his partner Sheena Pattle by claiming to be renting rooms at her home in Coronation Road, Dawlish.
At the time Joanna was just 16 and pregnant but when the fraud came to light they told investigators exactly what had been going on and offered to give evidence in court.
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The couple, now of Monitor Close, Exeter, both admitted conspiracy to commit benefit frauds totalling just over £10,000. They were both conditionally discharged at Exeter Crown Court by Judge Phillip Wassall.
The same judge freed Sheena Pattle earlier in the week after hearing how she had been left depressed and devastated by the suicide of Roderick Tugwood last month.
Roderick Tugwood, aged 54, had been facing not only benefit fraud charges but also firearms offences which carried a minimum jail term of five years.
Judge Wassall told James and Joanna Tugwood, who have married and had two children in the six years the case has taken to come to court, it would be wrong to punish them.
He said:”You got yourselves involved in a serious conspiracy to defraud the public purse but were drawn into it by desperation by people who should have known better.
“The way you responded afterwards in assisting the authorities and bringing evidence against those responsible must have been an incredibly brave decision for physical and emotional reasons.
“Such a public spirited decision dramatically affects the way I sentence this case. It would actually be inexpedient to punish you.”
Mr Malcolm Galloway, prosecuting, said the couple were young and vulnerable at the time they agreed to the plan to claim benefits, most of which were handed straight to Tugwood.
He said that since then they have struggled to repay the £10,094.04 out of very limited incomes and have so far recompensed Teignbridge District Council by just over £2,000.
Mr David Charles, for Tugwood and Mr William Parkhill for Joanna, said they have done all they could to help clear up the case and repay the money and have endured the strain of the case hanging over them for six years.
Sheena Pattle, aged 52, who married Roderick Tugwood four months before his death, was jailed for 12 months, suspended for 12 months on Monday.
In her case the court heard her false claims started in 1998 and carried on until a DWP investigation in 2009. Those involving Pattle totalled £32,767.91. The overall value of the conspiracy was originally put at £60,000.
She claimed to be Tugwood senior’s carer and landlady when in reality they were partners and were raking in a variety of fraudulent benefits.