A former magistrate who swindled £27,000 in benefits told a judge she couldn’t afford to pay a £20-a-month fine for ignoring a notice served by her local council.
Sandra Howell claimed she had “not got any money” as she repeatedly argued with a judge while being sentenced yesterday. Judge David Swinnerton told the 49-year-old that because of her “bloody-mindedness” of her, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council had run up a £25,865 bill in costs.
Howell, who was jailed for nine months in October 2018 for cheating the benefits system, claims to have agoraphobia and complex regional pain syndrome.
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Howell, who sat as a magistrate in Stockport, had been convicted of the fraud after video footage showed her walking around and working as a cleaner while claiming she could barely walk. During that trial, she was wheeled into court in a wheelchair each day but the jury was shown footage of her walking across the court precincts and ground floor of the building on the very first day of the trial.
Howell, of Stockport Road, Marple, failed to attend court for her one day trial earlier this year and was convicted in her absence of failing to comply with an enforcement notice. She claimed she had been refused a video link for the hearing, which followed four applications for the hearing to be postponed.
She told the court that it “was not because of my sheer bloody-mindedness” but because when she opted for crown court trial she thought she would be there to defend herself, and didn’t know she would be “as low as I am now” and mentioned her health issues, including having had a hysterectomy.
Her dispute with the council involved her carrying out unauthorized alterations to the driveway to her home and then failing to comply with an enforcement notice to put it back the way it was before. The enforcement notice was served in June 2018 after being warned in 2016 that one would be issued.
Howell agreed today that the unauthorized driveway is still there but claimed, “It hasn’t been used.” When Judge Swinnerton pointed out that she had been told to replace the lawn and hedge she interrupted to say “it was never a lawn.” He said she had been told the consequences if she did not do as directed. “You didn’t do it.”
She had been given more time because she had been jailed and was sent further reminders in 2019 after her release. Howell submitted details of her de ella income-£623 universal credit-and her de ella outgoings ready for today’s hearing and told the judge, “I have not got any money.”
When he pointed out that her monthly outgoings for her house insurance, compared to his own, it seemed “enormously expensive” she replied, “Well welcome to where I live. It was the cheapest one I could get.” She maintained she needs the Ring doorbell system she pays for following attacks on her property de ella after publicity about her fraud convictions de ella.
Judge David Swinnerton said that the only sentence for the offense was a fine. “It was a deliberate and flagrant ignoring of the enforcement notice because you took the view you knew better and you did what you wanted to do, you did not seem to feel you needed to obey the council application.”
He said that unfortunately her means are very limited. “The council have incurred £25,865 costs – money which could much better have been spent on other needs within the local community.
“But money has had to be spent on enforcing this against you because of your blatant ignoring of the enforcement notice. If you had the means I would make you pay every penny of that but you simply do not have the means to do so.”
The judge fined her £350 and ordered her to pay £350 towards the prosecution costs and £35 surcharge. “I cannot afford this,” she said.
She was ordered to pay it at the rate of £20 a month and warned that she faces 14 days imprisonment in default. “Where do you expect me to get this from? I don’t have this money,” she protested.
“You will have to make some savings,” replied Judge Swinnerton.