Luxury lifestyle of Dales benefit cheat

A HORSE breeder who lived in a 20-room mansion while claiming benefits has been jailed for two years after swindling the State out of £104,000.

Helen Gough, 47, claimed the cash over a 10-year period, most of which she spent living in a luxury home in Wheatcroft, near Lea.

Gough raised thoroughbred Arabian horses, exporting some to Germany and making trips to the Middle East.

She also bred dogs and Burmese cats.

But for the entire decade she was claiming income support, housing benefit and help to pay her council tax, Derby Crown Court heard.

Gough denied breeding animals as a business and said it was her hobby, which was accepted by Department of Work and Pensions investigators.

But prosecutor Rhona Campbell said Gough lived a life of “luxury and indulgence” while claiming the benefits.

Judge Andrew Hamilton said it was the worst case of benefit fraud he had ever seen.

He said: “It is the most disgraceful case of its kind. Many people who stand in that dock are bad at managing finances or desperate for money. For you it was entirely based on greed and determination to fund your hobby.”

He said he had never before heard of anyone claiming benefits to enable them to breed Arab horses.

“Most people in Derby would count watching football as their hobby,” he claimed.

Families in Wheatcroft, the hamlet where Gough lived, said she was seen driving a Land Rover Discovery and a BMW convertible.

The court heard Gough had “finance and capital” herself, before meeting an “affluent businessman” and moving into his “substantial property with acres of land” in Wheatcroft.

Ms Campbell said: “Few could contemplate being able to afford this hobby of breeding horses and whippets. I say hobby as she does not accept this was a business.”

Investigators had calculated that from 2003, when she moved into 20-room Wheatcroft House in the village, she must have spent £44,000 on the hobby.

“This gives some indication of spare money in the household at a time when she was claiming benefit,” said Ms Campbell.

Investigators estimated she had been wrongly claiming benefits from 2000 until 2010. In 2000, she sold a house for just short of £80,000 even though she told the authorities she was living in a rented property.

People living in the hamlet said it was well known that Gough was breeding exclusive Arabian horses, known for their speed, refinement, and endurance. The court was told she also bred whippets and Burmese cats.

She offered them for sale on websites with the names “Acorn Arabians” and “Acornlodge”.

Evidence was obtained from the Arab Horse Society confirming that the horses owned and bred by Gough were registered with them.

Additionally, the Kennel Club confirmed that Gough had registered 162 whippets with them.

Gough, now of Coton-in-the Clay, Staffordshire, initially denied the allegations but just before her trial admitted four counts of benefit fraud, which amounted to more than £104,299.

Philip Bown told the court there was another side to Gough. He argued that she had shown “determination and steadfastness” in spending 20 years caring for her severely disabled daughter, who suffered from cerebral palsy.

The judge said he had taken her daughter into account when deciding on the sentence. But he said the fact she had tried to bring her into the court room showed what a “manipulative woman” she was – exploiting her daughter’s condition to get sympathy from the court.