AN AMATEUR actress who stole £740,000 from taxpayers by conning the authorities into believing her dead father was alive and still eligible for his benefits has been jailed for nearly six years.
Ethel McGill, 68, of Runcorn, Cheshire, went to extreme lengths, to continue claiming late father Robert Dennison’s war pension and benefits after his death in 2004 – including asking a friend to lay under a blanket and pretend to be her.
The ‘sophisticated fraudster’ also feigned dementia and mobility issues for more than two decades to steal money from the public purse, but was caught out when DWP investigators filmed her moving around and even driving despite claiming she needed a wheelchair.
McGill arrived in a wheelchair when she appeared at Liverpool Crown Court today, burying her face in a pack of incontinence pads in an attempt to avoid being photographed.
She was sentenced to a 70 month prison sentence after pleading guilty to 21 offences.
Judge Steven Everett told McGill: “Part of your problem is that nobody, including me, believes that you are ill, and that you have been putting this on for years.
“Your devious behaviour, with very little remorse, has caught up with you and now you will have to pay the penalty.
“With breathtaking dishonesty you decided to use your father’s death to your financial benefit, what a terrible thing to do.
“It wasn’t even for a short amount of time – for year after year you, in a sense, sullied your father’s name – he was entitled to a war pension.
“When the authorities came to your house to see your father you got somebody to lie in that bed and pretend to be your elderly father and you put the authorities off by persuading them not to approach that person.”
Judge Everett also noted how poorly the case made the authorities look for failing to recognise Mr Dennison’s death for 12 years, but told McGill the dishonesty fell at her door.
He said: “The authorities may look at themselves and wonder how they let this happen and they don’t come out of this at all well but the whole dishonesty come down to you – you did it.”
Defence barrister, Dan Gaskell, accepted that a custodial sentence was inevitable but asked Judge Everett to consider a short sentence for McGill, who he added had never lived a ‘lavish lifestyle’ despite fraudulently claiming nearly a quarter of a million pounds.
He said: “She lives in fairly straightened circumstances. There is no indication that she has lived a life of excess.”
But Judge Everett rejected that defence, pointing out that ‘the average man on the street’ earning a £30,000 salary would need to work 40 years to make over £1million – while McGill had made nearly a quarter of that in little more than a decade.
He told the court: “The point I’m trying to make is for 12 years she received way more than the average working person in the street is getting.
“I think she needs to understand it’s no good saying to me she’s in straightened circumstances now when she received a huge amount of money from the public purse.”
Summing up his sentence, he added: “The message has to be sent out to you and others like you that if you steal from the public purse, not only is imprisonment inevitable but a substantial sentence must be passed.”
In an earlier statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said it was one of the largest ever cases of benefits fraud by a single person ever recorded.
Stephen Pendered, of the CPS, said: “This is the largest case of benefit fraud by a single person that I have prosecuted.
“Not content with receiving her father’s pensions, housing and tax benefits under false pretences, Ethel McGill made good use of her amateur dramatic skills by feigning dementia to succeed in her own fraudulent benefit claims.
“Over the course of 25 years, McGill shamelessly received £750,000 of public money she knew full well she was not entitled to.
“The lengths Ethel McGill and her family went through to cheat a system designed for people in need is truly staggering.
“However, we were able to dismantle their deception one lie at a time.
“We hope this prosecution will help the public to have confidence that those who cheat the public purse will face the full force of the law.
“The CPS will now endeavour to ensure taxpayers get some of their money back by pursuing McGill under the Proceeds of Crime Act.”