Ex-teacher is spared jail term after benefit fraud conviction

Ipswich Crown Court

Ipswich Crown Court - Credit: Archant

A former teacher and businesswoman from Woodbridge who was convicted of a £21,000 benefit fraud has walked free from court after a judge decided not to send her straight to prison.

Dorothy Piper, 58, of Christchurch Drive, had denied three charges of dishonestly failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions and Suffolk Coastal District Council of a change in her circumstances between 2011 and 2013 but was found guilty after a trial at Ipswich Crown Court earlier this month.

Sentence was adjourned until yesterday.

Sentencing Piper to a six-month prison term, suspended for 12 months, Judge David Goodin said she had “chanced her arm” by claiming benefits and not telling the authorities about changes in her circumstances.

In addition to the suspended sentence, Judge Goodin placed Piper under the supervision of the probation service and ordered her to attend a Women’s Emotional Wellbeing-specified activity programme.

The offences related to Piper’s failure to tell the authorities she was no longer caring for her father, knowing it would affect her entitlement to claim Income Support and Carers’ Allowance and her failure to mention she was in receipt of undeclared income, which she knew would affect her council tax benefit claim.

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Jamie Sawyer, prosecuting, told the court the total amount of benefit overpaid to Piper was £21,000.

During the trial the court heard that Piper had taught economics and business and been a senior mistress at a boarding school.

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She had also worked as a fashion buyer for a department store in America and had run a restaurant and several shops.

Giving evidence during the trial, Piper said she had a number of health problems at the time of the offences and had been drinking heavily. She denied acting dishonestly by not declaring a £35,000 payment into her bank account, a monthly pension payment of £444 from May 2012 and income from part-time work.

She said at the time she had just been thinking about surviving and had not checked what was in her bank account.

Mark Roochove, for Piper, said his client had taught at Woodbridge School and at schools in Great Finborough and Colchester and that as a result of her conviction it was unlikely her current contract would be renewed.

He said Piper had large debts at the time of the offences and was “remorseful, exceptionally ashamed and embarrassed”.

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