A WOMAN who forged doctors' letters from Clatterbridge Hospital falsely claiming she was suffering from cancer in an effort to claim over £20,000 in benefits has been jailed.  

Joan Lesley Clarke created fake letters from cancer specialists to deceive the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and fraudulently claim close to £23,000.

The 62-year-old, of St Helens, but who committed the fraud in Warrington, was slammed by a top judge for lying, not just during the scam, but through the vast majority of the court process.

This took up the valuable time of experts treating genuine, extremely ill and dying cancer sufferers – all during the unrelenting strain of the Covid pandemic.

Clarke was spotted crying in the dock during her sentencing hearing at Liverpool Crown Court last week.

She was convicted of three charges of fraud by false representation, four of making an article for use in fraud and one of possessing criminal property.

The facts of her offending were outlined by Gareth Roberts, prosecuting the case, who explained how Clarke pleaded guilty to all offences last month.

This came a fortnight before her trial was due to start, and after maintaining throughout that she had terminal cancer during court proceedings

Judge David Aubrey, presiding over the case, stated that this was 'brazen and blunt dishonesty’ in an attempt to ‘pull the wool over’ his eyes.

He also referenced how members of ‘highly pressurised’ staff from Clatterbridge Cancer Centre dealing with ‘extremely ill’ patients had to take time out of their work to prepare statements or investigate matters – which for the large part was also amid the Covid pandemic.

“This was all a waste of time, while no doubt they were all responsible for patients who were dying,” he commented.

On January 14, 2016, the defendant submitted an application to the DWP for benefits due to being ‘unfit for work’, Mr Roberts said.

She used in support of this a note purportedly from a consultant from Clatterbridge, but it had been falsified.

Despite this, it helped her to, between March 2016 and April 2019, claim benefits to the sum of £22,962.27 on the false and fraudulent assertion she was unfit to work.

In March 2016, she submitted a form stating she had terminal ovarian cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy and taking medication, and again in August 2016.

This occurred again in November 2016 in the form of a personal independence payment (PIP) review document, with more forged Clatterbridge consultant letters in July and August, 2017.

By January 2018, she submitted another PIP form, brazenly stating that her cancer had worsened and that increased treatment was underway.

Her offending came to light following a tip-off to the DWP which was subsequently investigated by the department’s fraud team.

Clarke was interviewed under caution in June 2019, where she continued to assert that she had terminal cancer, even going as far as saying it had now spread to her spine.

She failed to attend her first interview and forced the rearrangement of the second, claiming she needed to go into hospital for treatment.

After being given more time to provide documents she stated she had to prove her cancer assertions, she failed to do so, leading to the DWP contacting Clatterbridge directly.

Working together, investigators confirmed that the letters Clarke provided were falsified, with the consultant named having previously retired.

The defendant’s medical records were also obtained, and these confirmed that she did not have cancer or had underwent any form of cancer treatment.

Judge Aubrey remarked that delays in the case, up until Covid, were due to Clarke failing to attend interviews and ‘spinning a yarn’ with her lies.

Mr Roberts revealed to the court that Clarke does have relevant previous convictions for dishonesty, including for fraud, shoplifting and obtaining property by deception.

He added that this latest dishonesty was ‘sophisticated in nature’ and took place over a long period of time spanning years.

In defence of his client, David Polglase mentioned the struggles of her son, with whom she lives, with his drug addiction, and how the fraud was through her ‘desire to assist’ him.

It was also revealed that she is ashamed of herself given a member of her family died after suffering from a form of cancer in leukaemia.

“The Probation Service does not dismiss her as a lost cause, and there are some positives,” Mr Polglase appealed, adding that the inevitable custodial sentence could be suspended.

However, this view was flatly rejected by Judge Aubrey who said: “In essence, it can be stated very, very simply – you did not fortunately have cancer, you did not and have not got a chronic condition, but you did maintain throughout and dishonestly that you did.

“Even when evidence was obtained from Clatterbridge that you were not suffering from cancer, you continued to purport that you did when specifically asked.

“That was a lie, and an endeavour to pull the wool over the court’s eye.”

He continued: “In my judgement, these are extremely serious offences, and regrettably, you appear to have a dishonest vein running all the way through your body. You are a fraudster.”

Concluding, judge Aubrey said: “In all the circumstances, this court has come to the conclusion, not withstanding you are a woman of 62 years of age, this court would be failing in its duty if it did not today impose an immediate custodial sentence.”

Clarke, of Blinkhorn Grove in Bold, was sentenced to 10 months immediate imprisonment, with the money she fraudulently obtained to be recovered by the DWP.

Clarke was also condemned by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride MP, in a scathing statement.

He said: “This is a shameless and brazen example of deception by a fraudster in an outrageous attempt to take money from those who really need it.

“To fake a cancer diagnosis in a plot to steal taxpayers’ money is simply despicable.

“Once again, DWP fraud teams have been integral in bringing a benefits cheat to justice.

“We will continue to crack down on this scourge on our system and stamp out fraud, backed by our £900m plan, to ensure fairness for the taxpayer.”