UK

Benefits Cheat Who Claimed For 'Agoraphobia' While Travelling The World Jailed

23/04/2014 14:52 BST | Updated 23/04/2014 15:59 BST

A woman who travelled the world while claiming benefits for her "agoraphobia" has been jailed for a year.

Tracy Johnson, 52, claimed to be so unwell that she could not leave her own house but she actually enjoyed a "champagne lifestyle" while writing travel guides, cookbooks and steamy novels, all while falsely claiming benefits of around £50,000.

As well as a four-month stint in India, Johnson enjoyed shopping sprees in New York and Madrid.

A court also heard she spent six months working in Argentina as a tour guide while receiving cold winter payments.

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Prosecutors described the case as 'one of the worst examples of benefit fraud we've ever seen'

And the day after telling benefits officials she could not walk more than 16ft (5m) without help, Johnson went on a two-day trip to central London.

Earlier this month, a jury at Merthyr Crown Court convicted her of 13 charges - including fraud, dishonestly making a false representation, and dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstances between January 2008 and July 2012.

On Wednesday, Recorder Andrew Crabb jailed her for one year.

Andrew Penhale, of the Crown Prosecution Service, described the fraud as one of the worst he had ever seen.

He said: "Tracy Johnson plotted a blatant fraud against the public purse.

"She used taxpayers' money to fund a lavish, globetrotting lifestyle, all the while exploiting a system designed to support society's most vulnerable citizens.

"Ms Johnson claimed more than £1,000 per month in benefit payments over five years, when in truth she was spending the majority of her time either travelling or working abroad."

He continued: "Not only did Ms Johnson travel the globe while claiming she was 'a prisoner in her own home,' but she also ran her own tour guide company in South America and earned money working as a wedding photographer.

"In 2011 she even authored a book entitled 'Last Tango in Buenos Aires', detailing her experiences as an English woman living in Argentina.

"Making a false claim to suffer from anxiety, depression and agoraphobia undermines those who do genuinely suffer from these debilitating conditions.

"This is one of the worst examples of benefit fraud that we have seen."

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During the trial, prosecutor Joanna James showed the jury several posts Johnson had made on social networking sites.

One of her Facebook posts read: "I am one spoilt girl. Early lunch in the Himalaya Spa. Lunch here would be two weeks' wages in India."

She also went on to describe Buenos Aires as "magical - like a new lover".

And her bank statements showed a six-month period where large sums of money was withdrawn from cash machines in Argentina - but not a single transaction occurred back in the UK.

Johnson had claimed someone in the South American country had copied her card - while she had remained totally bed-ridden at her mother's in Builth Wells, Wales.

She also insisted transactions at stores including Ann Summers, lingerie outlet Victoria's Secret and a luxury bedding firm had been made by her teenage son.