A BENEFITS worker who went on a massive spending spree after masterminding an £80,000 fraud has been jailed.
Admin officer Jude Ross splashed the stolen cash on holidays, dining out, a new car and season tickets at Blackpool FC.
The 48-year-old from Poulton manipulated Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) computer systems by using claimants National Insurance numbers to send money to her bank account instead.
Genuine claimants were underpaid by her actions.
Ross, who lived in a caravan at Garstang Road West, was jailed for nine months after she pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud covering a period of almost a year, from a date in April last year to March this year.
Preston Crown Court heard how the offence began on the anniversary of the death of her son who had muscular dystrophy.
The total amount involved was £79,230.
Amanda Johnson, prosecuting, said Ross unlawfully accessed the DWP system around 15,000 times. Around £55,000 was diverted to her bank account by changing the destination for payments for 35 different claimants.
Ross worked in Blackpool and her duties had included maintaining benefits for people receiving disability living allowance and attendance allowance – particularly those in hospital or residential care homes.
When she was arrested, Ross, who had worked for the DWP for nine years, said correspondence on her desk related to genuine benefit claimants whose account details had been used by her.
Ross told police she did not know why she had continued the fraud which had begun on the anniversary of her son’s death and she could not explain what the money had been spent on.
Miss Johnson said: “She spent considerable sums on what might he termed luxury items – £3,500 on dining out, £3,780 on holidays, £4,300 on a new car and season tickets for Blackpool Football Club.
“There was also more than £20,000 withdrawn from cash machines.”
She said Ross was addicted to the fear of being caught.
Fraser Livesey, defending, said Ross was a woman of previous good character who had put herself out for others through her past charitable work. This included taking in children from Belarus for a month at a time.
Referring to her son’s anniversary, the barrister said “How that in any rational way causes her to commit this type of offence is inexplicable, but there must be some connection.
“She has pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. It was always going to come back to her – she had logged in using her own ID on the computer system. She can’t really offer any significant explanation where the money has gone. She didn’t need it for any particular reason.”
Judge Michael Byrne told Ross: “It was a substantial breach of trust upon your employers which had consequences for legitimate claimants. This was fraudulent conduct by you right from the beginning.
“Whatever your state of mental health, this course of conduct of sustained dishonesty wasn’t simply a brief passing phase. ”