Thursday 8 December 2016

Woman (82) claimed over €200,000 in social welfare using name of partner's dead wife

Published 02/06/2016 | 15:43

Mary Cullen (82) of Portland Row, Dublin leaves the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she pleaded guilty to 30 sample counts of falsely claiming social welfare, using false instruments and possession of false instruments between 1987 and 2015 in Dublin
Mary Cullen (82) of Portland Row, Dublin leaves the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she pleaded guilty to 30 sample counts of falsely claiming social welfare, using false instruments and possession of false instruments between 1987 and 2015 in Dublin
Dublin Central Criminal Court

An 82-year-old woman has received a suspended sentence for claiming over €200,000 in social welfare payments using the name of a dead woman.

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Mary Cullen began using the name of her partner's deceased wife in 1987 at the suggestion of her partner. Over the years she claimed job seeker's payments, rent and fuel allowances, pre-retirement payments and, mostly recently, pension payments.

Cullen of Portland Row, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 30 sample counts of falsely claiming social welfare, using false instruments and possession of false instruments between 1987 and 2015 in Dublin.

The amounts received ranged from Irl£52.80 in 1987 to €242.90 in 2009. The total amount falsely claimed over 28 years was €206,028.18

Cullen's defence was making a plea in mitigation and citing case law when Judge Martin Nolan interrupted and said "How can I send an 82 year old woman to jail? It's as simple as that. Isn't that the only point in the case?"

Judge Nolan said it was a reprehensible offence and Cullen should be ashamed of herself but that he couldn't “in good conscience” jail an 82 year old. Cullen had a hard life and was a hard worker, the judge said, noting that she had worked as an office cleaner until last year.

He said he didn't believe the Court of Appeal would overturn a suspended sentence if the Director of Public Prosecutions “got a rush of blood to the head” and decided to appeal it as too lenient.

Judge Nolan imposed a three year suspended sentence and noted that if Cullen was 20 years younger she would probably be facing prison. The Department of Social Protection has reduced Cullen's pension payments by €35 a week since the theft was discovered.

Garda Enda Connolly said he was asked last year by the Department of Social Protection to investigate suspicions that Cullen was claiming payments under the name Mary Rose Hart.

He conducted surveillance at the GPO where he saw Cullen enter and claim her pension under her own name. The next day he watched her claim payments in North Strand Post Office under the name of Mary Rose Hart.

When Gda Connolly later called to her house she invited him in and said “I'm glad its all over, I will tell the truth.”

She said her partner's wife had died from cancer in the UK in the eighties and he suggested Cullen use the deceased woman's identity to claim payments here. Cullen said her partner was violent and had a drink problem and she gave the extra money to him.

When her partner died in 2006 she began giving money to a close relative to help him pay off his drug debts, she said.

Defence counsel Luigi Rea BL said Cullen was originally from Limerick and had lived in the UK and Canada before returning to Ireland in 1968 where she had worked as a cleaner since.

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