A mother of 16 has avoided a jail term after she tried to process a bogus personal injury claim because she needed money to cover the costs of her and her husband's funerals.
Winnifred Lawrence, 69, of Moorefield Grove, Clondalkin, Dublin was sent forward to Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on signed pleas of guilty from the District Court.
She admitted to inducing staff at the Blackrock Clinic into believing she was Ellen Stokes with the intention of making a gain for herself at Blackrock Clinic, Rock Road, Blackrock on December 7, 2017. She has no previous convictions.
Garda Damien Reilly told Dara Hayes BL, prosecuting, that Lawrence tried to make a claim against RSA insurance in which she pretended to be Ms Stokes and said she had been involved in an accident on August 5, 2013.
She later came to the Circuit Civil Court in February 2018, again purporting to be Ms Stokes but the claim was ultimately struck out at that hearing by the judge.
Gda Reilly said that a garda, who knew Lawrence, attended the Circuit Civil hearing and noted that she still claimed to be at Ellen Stokes.
The garda confirmed that RSA insurance was at a loss of €14,143.37 which related to the company's legal costs to defend the case.
Gda Reilly agreed with Jennifer Jackson BL, defending, that the insurance company became suspicious of the claim before it came to court because of the fact that various different address and dates of birth were used on the forms.
Ms Jackson told the court that her client was a mother to 16 children, two of whom died as babies.
She said both Lawrence and her husband suffered from ill health and her client was worried about who would pay for their funerals when they died. Counsel said this was Lawrence's motivation for making the bogus claim.
Ms Jackson handed in medical reports which outlined Lawrence's long history of anxiety and depression and the fact that her husband was hospitalized having suffered a brain haemorrhage. She said Lawrence had no money available to compensate that company and that she was in receipt of the State pension.
Counsel said her client was willing to save €50 per week in an effort to raise the €14,000 but acknowledged that would take some time.
Ms Jackson told the court that her client had almost reached the age of 70 without having ever come to garda attention and she had tried to make the prosecution case as easy as possible by signing the pleas of guilty in the District Court.
Judge Pauline Codd sentenced Lawrence to three years in prison which she suspended in full.
She said that the offence involved a certain amount of planning and that Lawrence had deceived her solicitor and the consultant she was assessed by in the processing of the claim.
Judge Codd said it was a serious matter that impacted on people taking out insurance by hiking up the cost of policies.
“There must be a deterrent for offences of this nature. It undermines the capacity of insurance companies to provide cost-effective insurance for others,” the judge said before she added that without mitigation the case warranted a four-year jail term.
Judge Codd said she must take into account Lawrence's co-operation with the investigation and her own personal circumstances.
She said Lawrence had a lack of education, a young marriage and had committed her life to rearing a large family”.
The judge acknowledged that her concerns for both her ill health and that of her husband's were “the catalysts for the offence”, noting that both their medical conditions were outlined in reports before the court.
Judge Codd acknowledged Lawrence's remorse and her offer to pay €50 per week to the insurance company to compensate their loss but said given Lawrence's age, difficult circumstances and her incapacity to earn money, she was not going to direct her to reimburse the company.