A COUPLE who claimed over £80,000 in benefits and paid for 20 guests to attend their wedding ceremony in Cuba will be spending married life apart as one is put behind bars.
Ms Tracy Dougherty, 38, and Mr Stephen Turner, 60 from Stanley Place, Scholes in Wigan, were caught out by Wigan Council after making a number of false benefit claims since 2000.
This couple lived a lavish lifestyle at the expense of the local taxpayer. At a time when people are struggling to make ends meet, this kind of behaviour will no doubt frustrate those footing the billCoun Paul Kenny
Ms Dougherty claimed she was a lone parent of four children and as such received Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. She failed to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that she was in fact living with Mr Turner, and had been for 12 years. In total, Ms Dougherty fraudulently claimed £84,189.86.
At the same time, Mr Turner, a full time self-employed driving instructor, claimed out of work benefits and received an allowance to be his mother’s carer. He failed to declare his income and the savings in his bank accounts.
A joint investigation was launched by Wigan Council and DWP, which found Mr Turner was living with Ms Dougherty and was working as a driving instructor. The couple were also paying large amounts of money into their bank account.
In August 2013, the couple were arrested at their home in Scholes. Officers searched the home and found wedding invitations from the couple for their upcoming vows in Cuba. A letter from Mrs Dougherty to Thomas Cook stating that she was “personally paying for 20 of those passengers at a total cost of £19,633,” was also discovered. At the police station, the couple denied living together.
During a later interview, Ms Dougherty admitted to marrying Mr Turner in Cuba and admitted paying for the wedding but still denied living together. Mr Turner denied living together however admitted to working and having excess savings that he failed to declare.
At Liverpool Crown Court on Friday 27th February, Ms Dougherty pleaded guilty to falsely claiming benefits. She was immediately imprisoned for eight months.
Mr Turner pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing on Tuesday 14th October 2014 of failing to declare his work and excess capital. He was overpaid a total of £4938.85. As a result he was ordered to pay a £500 fine, £750 in costs and a £2,927.06 confiscation order. This confiscation order held a one month imprisonment in respect of any default.
Councillor Paul Kenny, cabinet member for resources at Wigan Council, said: “This couple lived a lavish lifestyle at the expense of the local taxpayer. At a time when people are struggling to make ends meet, this kind of behaviour will no doubt frustrate those footing the bill. Benefits are there for people who need them, not for those who want to subsidise their income and pay for expensive holidays. I hope they learn a valuable lesson from this.”