Mum shaved son's head and eyebrows in cancer benefit fraud
A MOTHER who shaved her son's head and eyebrows and pretended he had cancer so she could cheat the taxpayer out of benefits has been jailed.
Minutes after the woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was taken to the cells to begin her three year and nine month sentence, an ambulance was called because it was feared she had taken a drug overdose.
Gloucester Crown Court heard that the 36-year-old had put her son in a wheelchair and made him wear a bandana on his shaved head to support her false claim that he was seriously ill. She also made claims for a daughter she falsely stated to be suffering from an auto-immune disease.
Her frauds paid for luxuries including a holiday in Florida, where she wheeled her son around in a wheelchair so they could jump queues at theme parks, and a new people carrier.
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In total she obtained more than £85,000 in benefits and tax credits between 2007 and last year.
Jailing her yesterday, Judge Jamie Tabor QC told the woman that her offences had potentially caused serious long term emotional and psychological harm to her son, now aged 10, who had been convinced he was sick. He is now in care and does not want to see his mother again.
The defendant, who lives in a village near Bristol, admitted eight charges of fraud, one of cruelty to her son and one of forging a doctor's letter to delay Family Court proceedings.
Lisa Hennessy, prosecuting, told the court that when the boy was six he began complaining he had pains in his legs and his mother took him to see paediatrician Dr Thomas Kus at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
He was found to have enlarged tonsils and was referred for blood tests, which came back normal.
"The doctor wrote back to her with the results," said Ms Hennessy. "That letter was to prove very useful to her. She used it as a template for a forged letter in which she represented Dr Kus as saying that the child had been diagnosed with ALPS – autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome.
"This is a serious condition which results in an enlarged spleen and which requires regular blood transfusions.
"On the back of this forged letter she put in a claim for disability living allowance. She subsequently claimed for a Motability car and received a brand new Vauxhall Zafira so that she could transport her son wherever he needed to go."
Mrs Hennessy said the boy's school drew up care plans. He was not allowed to run around and play and started attending in a wheelchair.
But he refused to use the chair at home and would often play on a trampoline in his back garden.
Two years later another forged letter from Dr Kus was presented to the school, in which it was stated that her son had lymphoma, a cancer affecting the immune system.
"Within days, the boy was wearing a bandana to school," said Mrs Hennessy. "However, there was hair growth around the edges of the bandana and it was obvious his eyebrows had been shaved off. The person carrying out the shaving was his mother."
"The school ordered in special equipment to deal with any incidents or bleeds that the boy might suffer while at school. He could not take part in any physical education at school and she even put the news that he had cancer on her Facebook page."
Mrs Hennessy said the "complex web of lies" began to unravel when the mum separated from the boy's father, whose suspicions were aroused by the forged letters, shown to him during a school visit. He took them to the family GP, who told him the boy's blood tests were fine.
The father called in social services and the mother was arrested in May 2010. Her children were taken from her.
Mrs Hennessy said investigators found the woman, who had a previous conviction for benefit fraud, had falsely claimed a total of £85,898.44.
The false claims included disability living allowance and a claim for family tax credits made after her children had been taken from her.
When interviewed by police about what she had done to her son she said she had shaved his head after giving him a bad haircut.
Joe Maloney, defending, said that medical reports indicated that the boy was now in "normal and good health".
But Mr Maloney said his client had a personality disorder.
"She behaves in a way which is unusual and unexplained – and untreatable," he said. "She takes a number of medications. They are to deal with depression and other illnesses which I will not go into."
Judge Tabor said the boy had made a "remarkable" statement in which he said of his mother: "I don't like her. She is evil. I don't think she has a normal brain. I don't miss her any more."
Passing sentence, the judge told the woman she was a "congenital liar", whose treatment of her son had been "quite beyond the pale".
"You shaved his head and you paraded him in public as a victim of cancer," said the judge. "He was made to wear a bandana and was the butt of jokes from his peers.
"In short, this was cruelty over a long period of time."
The woman had sat in the dock during her case holding a clear plastic bag containing packets of tablets and had seemed disorientated during the hearing.
After she had been taken to the cells, security staff became concerned and called an ambulance.
She was then driven to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital with a custody van following the ambulance.