UK & World News
'Agoraphobic' Travelled The World On Benefits
A woman who received nearly £50,000 in benefits by claiming she had agoraphobia was secretly travelling the world writing books.
Tracy Johnson claimed to be so unwell that she could not leave her own house but spent time travelling in India and America, a court was told.
The 52-year-old mother-of-one enjoyed a "champagne lifestyle" while writing travel guides, cookbooks and steamy novels.
As well as a four-month stint in India, Johnson enjoyed shopping sprees in New York and Madrid.
She spent six months working in Argentina as a tour guide while receiving cold winter payments from the British taxpayer.
And the day after telling benefits officials she could not walk more than 16ft (5m) without help, Johnson went on a two-day trip to central London.
Earlier this month, a jury at Merthyr Crown Court, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, convicted Johnson of 13 charges.
She was found to be in fraudulent receipt of Disability Living Allowance, Income Support, Housing and Council Tax Benefit and Child Tax Credits totalling £48,000 between 2005 and 2007.
She also dishonestly failed to notify a change in circumstances between January 2008 and July 2012.
On Wednesday, Recorder Andrew Grubb jailed her for one year. Wales Online said Johnson is from Frome in Somerset but was arrested at her mother's home in Llandrindod Wells, Powys.
Andrew Penhale, of the Crown Prosecution Service, described the fraud as one of the worst he had ever seen.
He said: "Tracy Johnson plotted a blatant fraud against the public purse.
"She used taxpayers' money to fund a lavish, globetrotting lifestyle, all the while exploiting a system designed to support society's most vulnerable citizens.
"Ms Johnson claimed more than £1,000 per month in benefit payments over five years, when in truth she was spending the majority of her time either travelling or working abroad.
"Not only did Ms Johnson travel the globe while claiming she was 'a prisoner in her own home,' but she also ran her own tour guide company in South America and earned money working as a wedding photographer.
"In 2011 she even authored a book entitled 'Last Tango in Buenos Aires', detailing her experiences as an English woman living in Argentina.
"This is one of the worst examples of benefit fraud that we have seen.
"Making a false claim to suffer from anxiety, depression and agoraphobia undermines those who do genuinely suffer from these debilitating conditions."
Among the evidence prosecutor Joanna James brought before the jury were a series of posts Johnson made on social networking sites while she was abroad.
One of her Facebook posts read: "I am one spoilt girl. Early lunch in the Himalaya Spa. Lunch here would be two weeks' wages in India."
She later described Buenos Aires as "magical - like a new lover".
Her bank statements showed a six-month period when large sums of money were withdrawn from cash machines in Argentina - but not a single transaction occurred back in the UK.
Johnson had claimed someone in the South American country had copied her card - while she had remained totally bed-ridden at her mother's in Builth Wells, mid Wales.
She also insisted transactions at stores including Ann Summers, lingerie outlet Victoria's Secret and a luxury bedding firm had been made by her teenage son.
But the jury did not believe her.