Mother jailed for forcing children to undergo surgery in £375,000 benefits scam

A mother who lied about her children being ill, forcing them to have surgery as part of a plan to falsely claim benefits showed no remorse during her three-month trial, a judge said.

The 49-year-old, from Croydon, south London, told medical staff her children had asthma, autism and other health problems, meaning they were given drugs they did not need and went through invasive treatment including having tubes fitted in their stomachs.

The woman’s lies, which spanned a decade, allowed her to claim more than £375,000 in benefits, before she was arrested by police in 2013.

Following a three-year investigation the woman, who cannot be named to protect her children’s identity, was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail.

She was convicted last month of cruelty, fraud, making a false representation and obtaining money transfer by deception.

Addressing the woman at Croydon Crown Court, Her Honour Judge Elizabeth Smaller said: “I note that you have appeared to be very sad at times during this trial – but, watching you as I have for three months in court, in my view, it cannot be said to amount to remorse for what you did.”

Judge Smaller said the mother, despite being made aware of all the risks of surgery, had signed the consent forms to ensure it went ahead, and noted that she had not been “filled with the disquiet that most parents would” have at the thought of their child undergoing such an operation.

The children, a young boy and girl, had surgery to fit them with gastrostomy tubes for feeding, despite being able to eat normally, after the woman lied to authorities to say they had stomach problems.

Her son was given steroids after she claimed he suffered breathlessness, and he was told to behave as though he had autism.

In what the judge described as an “embarrassing” episode for him, he was also kept in nappies until he was taken into care aged seven-and-a-half.

The woman was determined to find another problem when it looked as though others she had created were resolved, the judge said.

Judge Smaller said: “The lengths to which you went were creative and well-thought through. They were wilful, prolonged and sometimes elaborate.”

She added: “You seem not to have been able to see past your own actions to the indignity of your children.”

At the time of her conviction, the Metropolitan Police, which led the complex investigation, involving 114 witnesses for the prosecution, described the woman’s behaviour as “staggering”.

A probe was launched by the Met’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command after a child protection referral in 2013 amid concerns she had exaggerated and falsified details about her children’s health.

Officers who searched the woman’s property found nappies, gastro milk and asthma medication.

After such “exploitation” Judge Smaller said it was evident the woman’s children still loved her.

She said: “Despite everything your children still love you – that is no doubt, which makes your exploitation of their unconditional love and trust, for them, all the more serious and bewildering.”

Malcolm McHaffie, deputy chief crown prosecutor for CPS London, said the woman had shown “extraordinary cruelty” and had been motivated by “dishonesty and greed”.

Mr McHaffie said: “That a mother should go to such lengths of child cruelty, spanning at least 10 years, to support the false and exaggerated benefits claims that she made is beyond comprehension.”

After sentencing the woman Judge Smaller questioned how the situation had been allowed to go on for 10 years.

She said: “It is a matter of regret that such qualified and experienced medical professionals at world renowned hospitals did not maintain better channels of communication.

“However busy – and knowledgeable they are in their field – they might all with hindsight have agreed that they could have learned much about this defendant from speaking to (a doctor) and each other.”

Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, said: “This was a sickening deception – it’s hard to imagine how a mother could put greed before the health and well-being of her children in such a horrific way, resulting in them having highly invasive and unnecessary surgery.

“It’s vital that the serious case review now reveals how so many professionals could have been deceived by this woman for so long so that we can minimise the chance of this ever happening again.”

An NSPCC spokeswoman said: “This is an incredibly distressing case. For a mother to subject her own children to invasive medical procedures for no reason other than her own financial gain is shocking and difficult to comprehend.

“As a mother, her role was to love and nurture her children, not subject them to pain and suffering.

“Their experiences will leave physical and emotional scars which could affect them for the rest of their lives and it is right that their mother is now facing the consequences of her selfish and cruel actions.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved.