A 47-year-old woman who was winning karate competitions while claiming to be disabled was jailed for 15 months today for cheating the state out of £77,000.
A jury took just 26 minutes yesterday to find Claire Thomas guilty of seven charges of defrauding the Department of Work and Pensions and today she learned her fate when she returned to Gloucester Crown Court for sentence.
Black belt Claire Thomas is on trial accused of claiming disability benefits while taking part in karate contests and winning medals
Jurors had found that she was not entitled to any of the benefits she claimed on the grounds that she was a jobless single parent and that she suffered from asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes.
During a three day trial the jury saw secretly filmed video of her looking perfectly able bodied as she left her home, drove her car, went to karate club sessions and took part in training and competition bouts.
She was also seen smoking and kissing her husband Kevin – whom she maintained did not live with her and did not contribute to her household.
Claire Thomas pictured with a karate certificate
Thomas, of Willow Avenue, had denied that she was maintaining a “common household” with her husband between 2007 and 2013, and also claimed to be so disabled she could not walk without assistance due to brittle asthma.
But the surveillance video showed her husband arriving at her address in the evening and leaving in the morning – just like most normal working husbands and partners – on every day that they monitored the property.
Claire Thomas, who is accused of obtaining disability benefits while winning medals at karate, is pictured here (on the right) with her husband Kevin Thomas (next to her) at a karate session
Probation Officer Jo Hall said that Thomas maintained her innocence and did not accept her crime. Ms Hall said there was no alternative but to propose an immediate custodial sentence.
The judge, Recorder Gordon Bebb QC told Thomas: “Stay seated. You have been found guilty by the jury of seven counts of benefit fraud.
“That is based on two lies. Firstly that you were living on your own, when you were living with your husband.
“The second lie is that you had the same disability as on your original declaration (when she first applied for benefits) and that you needed round the clock care. That became very far from the case.
The judge said her offending was “determined and widespread”.
Claire Thomas filmed during a karate session
He added: “You milked the system as much as you could for years. People like you cause the public to lose faith in the benefit system. You were taking taxpayer’s money that could have gone elsewhere.
“This is so serious only custody is justified, given the extent of benefits obtained and the time it went on.
“Another aggravating feature is that in 1998 you were convicted of a benefit fraud [she received a three year conditional discharge at Bristol Magistrates] and that was a warning shot across your bows.
“My total sentence is 15 months,” the judge concluded.
Thomas blew a kiss to the public gallery as she was taken down to the cells to start her sentence.