Dog-sitting Burnley benefits cheat who stole £80,000 jailed after leaving country

An £80,000 benefits cheat who jetted off to Tenerife after being ordered to do community service, is now behind bars.

Monday, 10th September 2018, 1:05 pm
Updated Monday, 10th September 2018, 1:27 pm
Burnley Magistrates' Court

Ex-businesswoman Nicola Alcock (41) was arrested after she recently landed back in the UK. She claimed she had gone to the Spanish island to raise some money after a proceeds of crime hearing, a court was told.

The mother-of-two - a former criminology student - had earlier walked free after the long-running handouts scam.

But, she has now received her second prison term over the case, when she was given four months.

It was imposed by Judge Andrew Woolman at Preston Crown Court, after she was convicted of breaching the order of eight months in jail, suspended for two years, with 150 hours unpaid work, which she had been given at Burnley Crown Court in January last year.

Alcock, formerly of Red Lees Road, Cliviger, was already serving 91 days in custody for defaulting, after an earlier proceeds of crime hearing. The sentences are concurrent.

In January last year, Burnley Crown Court was told how Alcock had been claiming benefits as a single mum even though she was married.

Alcock, who had been receiving housing benefit and tax credits, was caught after she put on the website for Barking Mad - a dog sitting service - that she lived in Earby with her husband, Gerard Thornton.

She lied when she was interviewed by the authorities and only owned up to being dishonest when she was shown her marriage certificate, a judge had heard.

The defendant, who the sentencing hearing was told was being treated for depression, had earlier admitted dishonestly failing to promptly notify Pendle Council of a change in circumstances and being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent payment of tax credits.

She had been committed for sentence by Burnley magistrates. Alcock, who committed the offences between December 2008 and April 2015, had no convictions at the time.

Mr Julian Goode, prosecuting, had told the crown court the defendant made an application for tax credits on January 17, 2006, on the basis she was single, with dependent children. The claim was legitimate at that stage.

She also made an application for housing benefit, on October 3, 2008. Mr Goode continued: "Again, at that stage, albeit briefly, it was a legitimate claim."

The prosecutor said: "Matters altered on 13 December, 2008. That was the date she married Gerard Thornton and thereafter maintained a common household with him. The change in circumstances would have affected her entitlement to benefits and she failed to notify the authorities."

Mr Goode said Alcock was overpaid tax credits totalling £58,721.91 and housing benefit in the sum of £22,856.29. The total overpayment was £81,578.20.

The prosecutor told the hearing there was a series of pieces of evidence and documentation which asserted Alcock and Mr Thornton were in fact living together.

Mr Goode continued: "On the defendant's own business home page, Barking Mad, she described herself as living in Earby with her husband."

He said: "She was interviewed on 9 November 2015 and during the course of that interview initially said the relationship started in 2009. Of course, we know the marriage was in 2008.

"There was a two month period for housing benefit where the Crown accept it was legitimate, but thereafter the deception begins."

Mr Goode went on: "She was later shown her marriage certificate and accepted what she had said during the course of the interview had been lies and she had been dishonest."

Sentencing, Recorder Simon Hilton had told Alcock: "A suspended sentence order is justified, notwithstanding the gravity of the offences."

The judge added: "Everything I have read about you suggests this behaviour is out of character for you and, more importantly, is wholly unlikely to be repeated in the future."