Pastor accused of wrongly claiming £36,000 in benefits. Photos showing her… jogging on Crete
A woman pastor claiming state benefits for severe mobility problems waded unaided into the sea to baptise new members of her congregation, a court has heard.
Stephanie Meakin also took part in the hokey-cokey at a church Christmas party, wore high heels and was seen walking up a steep hill and jogging to a cash machine, all unaided.
A jury heard that she also went on holidays to South Africa and the Phillipines.
Meakin had begun receiving disability living allowance , at the highest rate, in 1995 quite legitimately because of severe back trouble but by 2001 there had allegedly been a significant improvement in her condition.
“The prosecution says she dishonestly failed to notify that improvement in her disability to the DWP and carried on claiming benefit she knew she was no longer entitled,” said Kevin Slack, prosecuting.
He told Liverpool Crown Court that between October 2001 and February 2013 she allegedly dishonestly obtained a total of £36,000.
51-year-old Meakin, of Springwell Close, Crewe, Cheshire, has pleaded not guilty to dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstances.
The court heard that shortly after 2000 she had founded the Church of Abundant Life International based in Crewe and was a pastor.
Mr Slack said that Meakin initially claimed to the DWP that her back trouble had deteriorated over many years and had reached an “unbearable level.”
“She described wearing a collar to protect her neck and could only walk short distances and needed someone with her and needed help to prepare meals and keep an eye on her.”
She claimed she used a walking stick and it took her a long time to cover short distances and found that “extremely painful, tiring and exhausting.”
Meakin also said she needed someone with her as she was likely to fall and needed her husband to help her bath and had a bath seat.
Meakin stated she could not go on long journeys because the pain would be unbearable and she spent a lot of time in bed, he added.
But he claimed that by 2001 her condition had significantly improved but despite being asked annually by the DWP if there was any change in her condition she did not reveal the improvement.
DWP investigators began surveillance on her in late 2012 on a large number of days and she was seen walking unaided.
“On one occasion when it was raining she was filmed stepping from her car near a cash machine and jogging the short distance to the cash point to get money and jogging back,” said Mr Slack.
At a Citizenship ceremony at Crewe Town Hall she walked up ten steps without apparent difficulty.
“This was in stark contrast to what she had put on the form saying she found stairs virtually impossible.”
When her home was raided on March 14, 2013 police and DWP investigators found no bath seat or grab rails and video footage found showed her moving around freely at her daughter’s wedding. Photographs taken in Crete again showed no sign of a walking aid.
She had also been on trips to South Africa on a church mission and twice to the Philipines and on a life insurance application form said apart from high blood pressure she had no on-going health problem and “exercised three times a week for 30 minutes.”
A member of her congregation, Paul Challoner told how he saw her weekly in church and at mid-week meetings and went with her and other church members on day trips to Blackpool and Llangollen in 2011.
She walked with them for a mile and a half along Blackpool pier without apparent problem and in the winter of that year walked up a steep bank to the canal tow path in Llangollen where the walked a few hundred yards.
Later that day they went to nearby Black Rock on the coast for a baptismal ceremony for some new church members. While he and others watched from the beach she and another church member carried out the ceremony standing in the shallows.
“The person is ducked backwards for a full immersion which takes two people. The water came up to her (Meakin’s) thigh,” he said.
He also told how the church had Christmas parties. “I remember her enjoying the celebrations and taking part in various games such as pass the parcel, the hokey-cokey and dancing.”
Asked about her ability to take part in these events he replied, “fine, normal.”