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Fraud charge for traveller after press investigation

A woman has been charged with fraud after a local newspaper investigation published reports that she bought a five-bedroom house in cash while claiming legal aid to stay living on an unauthorised caravan pitch.

Basildon-based daily the Echo carried the result of its research in December 2008 following a probe by its investigations reporter Jon Austin.

The splash and two-page special exposé also alleged the woman – a traveller based at an illegal site in south Essex – had owned or lived in conventional housing for more than 20 years.

This was despite her claims to having an aversion to bricks and mortar.

Legal Aid can only be awarded to people with disposable income of £8,000 or less, while the first £100,000 of equity in a person’s main home is not counted.

The Echo’s report claimed the woman paid £230,000 cash for the property, which was just a few hundred metres from her unauthorised caravan pitch, despite claiming the public funding for the legal battle.

The Legal Services Commission, which awards legal aid, conducted a three-month inquiry as a result of Jon’s stories.

It revoked her funding and then referred the matter to Essex Police.

The force has since charged the woman with fraud and she faces a crown court trial in the spring after entering a not guilty plea.