A woman who claimed almost £100,000 in benefits due to her father for seventeen years after his death, has been jailed for 14 months on the day of her birthday.
When Elizabeth Scotland was caught after an investigation by the Department of Work and Pensions, she told police officers she knew what she had done was wrong and: “that her father would be turning in his grave”.
At Edinburgh Sheriff Court today, on her 69th birthday, Elizabeth Scotland was told by Sheriff Frank Crowe: “I appreciate your age, but you have previous convictions, albeit some time ago, but of a similar nature. I see it is your birthday today, however, it is a huge amount of public money obtained over a 17 year period. I am left with a prison sentence as the only alternative”.
Scotland of Burdiehouse Street, Edinburgh, had pled guilty previously to obtaining £99,000 by fraud in Attendance Allowance, State Pension and Winter Fuel Payments to her father, John Mitchell, between April 14, 1997, and March 30, 2014.
Mr Mitchell died on April 8, 1997. Scotland registered his death on April 11 that year, but did not notify the DWP. Sentence had been deferred for a background report.
Fiscal Depute, Beverley Adams, had told the court that Scotland obtained the money by forging her father’s signature on cheques, counterfoils and documents relating to his benefits.
The Fiscal said cheques from the DWP required to be signed on the reverse when cashed at a post office. A sample of the cheques was examined and it was found what appeared to be his signature on the back of each of them. This allowed a second person to cash the cheques and that signature was for “E. Scotland”.
In January 2013, the system for payment of benefits was changed to the Simple Payments Service which was designed for people unable to use any form of account. Ms Adams said the person due to receive the payments was sent a letter of introduction to the new scheme, a payment card and details of how the scheme worked. “Using this system the accused continued to obtain Mr Mitchell’s benefits” said the Fiscal “withdrawing the balance each Monday morning from a Scotmid branch”.
The Fiscal added that the DWP investigator contacted the manager of the store who said he had few customers using the service, but was aware of Scotland attending every week to obtain her father’s benefits. CCTV footage showed her at the till in the store at the relevant times.
The Fiscal said when Scotland was asked why she had continued to withdraw her father’s benefits after his death, she replied it had been to pay off some of her personal debts.
Ms Adams added: “When asked why she had continued to do this if she believed it to be wrong, the accused maintained that she was ashamed, that her father would be ashamed of her and that she was sorry to have stolen from a dead person”.
Sheriff Crowe said he had faced a very difficult choice. The Social Work report had suggested a Community Payback Order be imposed, but he said: “It is a vast amount of public money which was obtained by fraud over 17 years”.