A WOMAN has been spared an immediate prison sentence for a £34,500 benefit fraud after a judge heard how she had taken money to Somalia to secure the release of her kidnapped mother.
Recorder Michael Parroy QC was told how Soad Galol’s refugee family was scattered around the world and her elderly and infirm mother had attended their first reunion in Sweden in 20 years.
Galol had returned to the UK early but when her 87-year-old mother flew out afterwards, she was kidnapped and taken to Amsterdam and then flown to Somalia where the eldest of her nine sons lives.
Computer consultant Jeremy Heading, who has known Galol for 15 years, told Southampton Crown Court that under Somalian culture the mother had to live with the eldest child.
“It is his duty and it is a matter of shame if she is not there,” he explained. “It was totally against her mother’s wishes that she was taken there. She is there under duress and Soad has been doing her best to get her back.”
The court heard Golal had taken the cash to her brother in the hope he would let their mother leave, but she was still there.
Galol, 49, of Kenilworth Gardens, West End , admitted five charges of failing to notify the Department of Works & Pensions of a change of circumstance. The judge, who was also told all the money had been repaid, said he was satisfied “unreasonable pressure” had been placed on Galol and spared her an immediate prison sentence.
He gave her an eight-month suspended term and a 200-hour community work order.
Prosecutor Roderick Blain said that in June 2009 Galol was appointed to look after her mother’s affairs and initially her claim for council tax benefit, housing benefit and other allowances was legitimate, but the authorities later became aware her mother was no longer living with her.
They set up an investigation last September and discovered her mother had not been residing in the UK since December, 2009. That resulted in payments of just over £34,500, to which she was not entitled.
“Though it was not fraudulent from the outset, it was carried out over a significant period of time,” said Mr Blain, confirming the money had been repaid through Galol’s friends and supporters.
Urging the court to accept the probation service’s recommendation of a suspended sentence with a community order, Megan Topliss, defending, said Galol was clearly held in high regard by her family and other members of the community.
“It is quite apparent she is distressed at the situation she finds herself in. She had lived in Britain for 11 years and had worked as a carer and for social services. This is a woman who will not re-offend.”