Woman told Benefits Agency she was living housebound in Brighton while travelling the world (From The Argus)
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Woman told Benefits Agency she was living housebound in Brighton while travelling the world
Updated 3:22pm Monday 7th April 2014 in News
An agoraphobic woman who travelled the world while on benefits has been told to expect jail.
Tracy Johnson claimed to be so unwell that she could not leave her own house.
Yet the 52-year-old mother of one enjoyed a "champagne lifestyle" while writing travel guides, cookbooks and steamy novels 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 sunny Argentina as a tour guide while receiving cold winter payments.
And the day after telling benefits officials she could not walk more than five metres (16ft) without help, Johnson went on a two-day trip to central London.
A jury at Merthyr Crown Court convicted the defendant 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.
Recorder Andrew Crabb warned Johnson to expect a custodial sentence. He said: "A period of custody is likely to follow. How long that will be I could not say at this point."
The court heard that Johnson, of Frome, Somerset, claimed she had not left the UK for years and her fears and illnesses left her a "prisoner at home".
She later changed her address to her mother's home in Builth Wells, Powys, for the purpose of claiming benefits.
However, the Benefits Agency believed she was living in Brighton, and was housebound because of her medical conditions.
But when police went to arrest her, they found luggage tags still on her suitcases.
Investigators later found her profile on the LinkedIn business networking site, where she billed herself as "author, photographer and tour director of Northwest Nomads from 2002 to the present time".
She also kept Facebook friends up to speed with her travels. A court heard that one of her postings 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".
But despite reams of bank statements proving her guilt, Johnson continued to protest her innocence.
After telling the court she had only one bank account, Johnson claimed that several withdrawals from cash machines in Argentina over a six-month period had been made by someone who had "copied" her card.
However, during that time there were no transactions for shopping within the UK.
Johnson tried to explain this by saying she had been "bedridden" and had not user her card to buy things.
And when transactions back home once again appeared on her bank statements, those for Argentina suddenly stopped.
Other excuses Johnson used in evidence included blaming the September 11 terrorist attacks for giving her post-traumatic stress disorder and saying that thousands of pounds going into her account was a "gift" from her elderly mother.
She also claimed that purchases made with her card in Anne Summers, women's lingerie outlet Victoria's Secret and to cosmetics firm L'Oreal had been made by her then teenage son.
Prosecutor Joanna James said: "Tracy Johnson was living the life that honest, decent, hard-working taxpayers could only dream of.
"While workers were going out to do their daily grind, she was shopping in New York or having a few days in Madrid."
Miss James said Johnson had told the Department for Work and Pensions she could not live on a day-to-day basis and "stumbled and fell repeatedly and could not walk more than five metres without help".
In June 2009, the defendant paid £681 to Dial-A-Flight in before withdrawing £500 at Paddington and paying an excess baggage charge at Heathrow Airport five days later.
Then five months later she was back in London, where she enjoyed a two-day break - which included some retail therapy in Covent Garden.
A jury heard that, the previous day, Johnson had stated on a claim form that she "fell every day", "stays in bed all day" and in a section asking what she liked to do she put "I look at the wall".
Miss James noted: "London must be worst place in the world to go for someone who panics."
Recorder Mr Crabb said sentencing would be carried out within the next two three weeks, once the Probation Service had completed a report on Johnson.
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