Larbi/Pact Harlow Saints and Scroungers


Larbi/Pact Harlow

Series looking at benefit fraud. An imposter steals an innocent woman's identity and lands herself a job as a nurse, helping her to defraud the NHS out of 270,000 pounds.


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Transcript


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Welcome to Saints and Scroungers,

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the show that exposes benefit thieves, cheats and liars,

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but it does also unearth the people that genuinely need help.

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This is the front line in the battle against benefit fraud.

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Saints And Scroungers is all about busting benefit thieves who steal millions every year,

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and it's about the crack teams of investigators determined to scupper their devious scams.

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We also shine a light on the saints,

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people committed to putting money into the pockets of those

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who deserve it and the people too proud or simply don't know how to claim

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what is rightfully theirs.

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And coming up on today's programme...

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An imposter steals an innocent woman's identity and lands herself a job as a nurse.

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It's just a really unsettling feeling to have somebody kind of, being you.

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And parent power, the saintly mums who help each other cope with their children's disability.

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You call their name and they don't even look round.

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You give them a kiss and it makes them cry.

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The impact of identity fraud is massive and it can take years

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to sort out the mess it makes of people's lives.

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Sadly, the victims don't know about it until it's too late

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and the damage has already been done.

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Identity theft can strike anyone at any time and the perpetrators can be the most unlikely people.

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Meet nurse, Kate McDowell-Foord.

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Originally from Ghana, Kate worked for the NHS for seven years.

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She was given a £40,000 bursary to fund a university degree course,

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so she could move up from the position of health care worker, to staff nurse.

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And according to reports, she was good at her job,

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even appearing on the front cover of a health trust magazine.

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But that smile hid a sinister secret.

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She was in fact, an imposter.

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Kate McDowell-Foord was operating

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under a stolen identity and had defrauded the NHS out of £270,000.

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Theft of NHS money is a serious problem.

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So much so, they have their own dedicated counter-fraud department,

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headed up by Kevin Cane.

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Being the UK's largest employer,

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and of course a lot of your staff coming from abroad as well,

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you must have a problem with identity fraud.

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It's an issue that we've discovered more and more in recent years.

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Obviously with the recent Immigration Act coming in in 2008,

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the NHS like any other employers

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are actually compelled to make more checks on all their employees now.

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This naturally leads to the identification of problems

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which then get referred to counter-fraud to deal with.

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Because of the nature of your line of work

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and that a lot of people are coming in with credentials

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and qualifications from abroad, it must be an absolute nightmare.

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Identity fraud in the UK is a recognised problem across the board.

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NHS is no exception. We have to deal with these because

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we've got illegal workers working for us and we can't tolerate that.

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Tell me about the lady that you thought was Kate McDowell-Foord.

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She was a trusted employee, there was no complaints about her work.

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On the face of it, to those she was working with, she appeared honest,

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but they didn't know she'd been acting in a dishonest fashion,

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deceiving them for seven years.

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And it's possible she would've continued to go undetected

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if it wasn't for a tip-off to the NHS fraud squad.

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In August 2009, counter-fraud specialist Peter Gorman

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received a phone call

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that was to prove the starting point of a massive investigation.

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On the end of the phone was Kate McDowell-Foord,

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except this lady was not the smiling Ghanaian nurse.

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It was a very worried British woman, who at the time was living in Dubai.

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She was convinced the nurse had stolen her identity.

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You see, her kids had punched her unusual name

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into the internet to see if they could find their mum,

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and a very different woman popped up on screen.

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My children showed me the photo of Kate McDowell-Foord

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and it was a very smiling black lady with her colleagues

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and it said Kate McDowell-Foord has worked in mental health for

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whatever borough it was of London for X years and is part of the team.

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I knew when I saw this other person with my name

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that it was completely impossible.

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Hang on a second, am I missing something here?

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Let's be honest, we've all put our names on the internet to see what comes up and usually,

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it's a load of different people with the same name as us, so it's not exactly breaking news.

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And even the fraud investigator initially didn't think there was much to go on.

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At that particular time, there was no real evidence to say there was a problem.

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It was just probably her hunch.

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Kate was adamant it was more than just a hunch,

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but why was she so convinced her identity had been stolen?

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My maiden name is McDowell and I married

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James Foord, with a double-O in Foord

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and that's completely unusual. We officially created McDowell-Foord through a legal route

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and everything, hyphenated it, much like an old tradition, just combined our names, really.

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Therefore that was a completely one-off name.

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The likelihood that the name was unique

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promoted Peter to check the file of the NHS employee.

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A simple process of verifying the data we held on personnel files

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could establish if everything was correct.

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On the personnel file, other than the normal, historic appraisals

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and other documents, there is a copy of the employee's passport.

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This is the copy of the passport in the name of McDowell-Foord,

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along with a copy of the National Insurance card

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with the name of McDowell-Foord and her number.

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It appeared to be a valid British passport and significantly,

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the date of birth was different to that of the Kate who'd phoned in.

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It seemed the nurse could in fact be who she said she was.

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But for Kate, the seed of suspicion had been planted five years earlier,

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when a strange mix-up happened regarding her medical notes.

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I went to my doctor as one does and he said,

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"Why are you trying to switch boroughs?

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"It's becoming quite frustrating for them."

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Um, and I said, "Well, I'm not," and I thought...

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At the time, Kate was registered with a GP in south London,

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but a surgery in west London was repeatedly requesting the transfer

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of her medical notes for one of their patients,

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who was trying to register as Kate McDowell-Foord.

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But at the time, the notion of identity theft was furthest from her mind.

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Just didn't cross my mind that that would be the situation.

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I thought my doctor was getting his papers muddled and somebody was getting very muddled.

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Frustrated at what Kate perceived to be an admin error,

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she took matters into her own hands.

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I decided then to phone the actual borough he was mentioning, just to see what was what.

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By chance, she was actually there at the desk.

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By an incredible twist of fate, the doctor in west London

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was in a surgery, sitting directly opposite Kate McDowell-Foord.

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The other Kate demanded more information

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about this woman and she immediately hit a brick wall.

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Due to data protection, I couldn't do anything, I had no rights, nothing.

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Well, that's rather disturbing...

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But it was noted by both surgeries the two women, although sharing identical names,

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had different dates of birth

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and then there was the issue of their different ethnicity.

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The fact that one Ms McDowell-Foord is a white lady

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and the fact that one McDowell-Foord was a black lady

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and the discrepancy in the dates of birth,

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it was deemed then that there wasn't any

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falseness or fraud at that stage

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and everyone just carried on as it was then.

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Kate was disturbed by the bizarre coincidence,

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but her priority at the time was a big family move to another country.

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Then, I think I dropped the whole thing and I moved to the Middle East

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and I thought it was obviously going to be a very cumbersome thing,

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which could conspire against me, you know, trying to solve anything, so I just let it go.

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But five years later and fired up by the website hit on the smiling nurse,

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Kate was determined to get to the truth, so she told the NHS investigator

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about the medical records mix-up that had happened a few years before.

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Ms McDowell-Foord pointed out that her medical records had been

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transferred to someone in west London,

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where her name was used.

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So, Peter agreed to dig a bit deeper.

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He turned his attention back to nurse McDowell-Foord's passport and he made a crucial discovery.

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Inquiries with the British passport UKBA established that in fact it was

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a passport that was reported missing,

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when it was dispatched in December 2000.

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Kate confirmed that some years ago, she had indeed reported a passport missing in the post.

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I applied for a passport under my married name and it never turned up.

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I got a second one sent to me, a replacement, and carried on.

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It may not have raised alarm bells at the time for Kate,

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but for Peter Gorman, this was a massive red flag.

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My suspicions now clearly raised that the documents held on file to this

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person's identity were not correct and warranted further investigation.

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Years of experience in fraud told him that passports

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are one of the identity thieves' favourite documents.

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And hearing that one of Kate's had gone missing now sparked a full-scale investigation.

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And finally, Kate got the news she'd been hoping for.

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I contacted Ms Kate McDowell-Foord in Dubai,

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where she resided and pointed out that the information that she'd given

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had led to this part of the investigation to moving on and now a formal investigation

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was being undertaken by our department into the identity

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of this lady working in a position of trust within the NHS

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and how the circumstances had come about.

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Peter's next stop was to get back in touch with the investigation

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department of the Passport Office to see if he could find out more.

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They confirmed that the passport had gone missing,

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had been issued to a white lady of the name Kate McDowell-Foord

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and that it carried the same passport number as Nurse McDowell's passport held on file.

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If it bore the picture of a black lady, which it did,

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there was something wrong with that passport.

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But what no-one could fathom was why nurse McDowell-Foord's passport

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had a different date of birth to the real Kate in Dubai.

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So was the celebrated NHS nurse a real person or an imposter?

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Later, a surprise raid reveals a shocking truth.

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This document clearly links her to organised criminal networks

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that are able to supply documents to commit fraud.

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From the scroungers ripping off the system to the people we call our saints,

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those individuals who help put money into the pockets of people in genuine need

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and the people too proud or who simply don't know how to claim what is rightfully due to them.

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Hearing the news that a child has been diagnosed with autism

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would leave most parents feeling devastated and quite alone

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at a time that they need help and support the most.

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But what do you do when there's no help available?

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Debbie from Harlow is the mother of an autistic 11-year-old called Luke,

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and parents like her can often feel isolated.

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Hiya. Debbie, nice to meet you.

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-Yes, and you, come in.

-All right?

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-Shall I put the kettle on?

-Tell me about the diagnosis.

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Something in the back of my mind kept saying, "There's something not right."

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I thought it was a hearing problem because a bus would go past him and he wouldn't even flinch.

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And a bee who I hadn't even heard would go past and he'd completely freak out.

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My sister-in-law actually is the one that said, "There's something not right about him,"

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because she works with deaf children so she'd met autistic children before.

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Debbie's sister-in-law's suspicions proved to be correct.

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When Luke was two-and-a-half, a specialist confirmed a diagnosis of autism.

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When you heard those awful words, how did you cope?

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I felt very alone, I thought I was only person going through it.

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Because there was no help, because they didn't say to me,

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"There's a support group," I just felt, "Where do you go from here?"

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Her friends suggested that Debbie attend a one-off parenting workshop run by Essex County Council,

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and she decided to go - a decision that would change everything.

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Because it was there that Debbie would meet Sam,

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also a mother of autistic children.

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A lot of parents don't realise that they are entitled to benefits for their child

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to help with living costs, to help with any therapies they need.

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Feeling inspired, Debbie agreed to help Sam set up a dedicated local support group.

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They called it Parents of Autistic Children Together, or PACT Harlow.

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And they've never looked back.

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-How many parents are in it now?

-Gosh, we've got probably

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well over 130 families that are involved with us.

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Wow. This is something you've hit the nail on the head with.

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Yeah, exactly. It's snowballed, especially over the last two or three years.

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We do events. We have support group meetings.

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We do awareness events and work with professionals and families.

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The organisation brings families together and it's a vital lifeline

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for parents who otherwise would have nowhere to turn.

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I didn't have anyone to say, "You know what?

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"You need to go here and ring this person and this is available."

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So for PACT, as we learned and as we found out about different services and organisations

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that we could tap into, we can then signpost other parents to those organisations.

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But it's not just parents who benefit.

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The children get just as much out of it.

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Most of our children don't have close friendships.

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At school they may not have a best friend like we had when we were growing up.

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By the PACT children, as we call them, getting together,

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they get to know each other and they develop friendships.

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That's so important because they're learning life skills from each other.

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This is why I do PACT, I think. PACT Harlow is moving my life forward, my children's life forward.

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I'm learning, they're learning.

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The ultimate aim for me is for my children to be independent adults.

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Just like Sam, mum Rowan is also trying to secure a better future for her four-year-old son Oak.

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Like many autistic children, he has great difficulty communicating.

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I can't describe what it's like when you have your child that you love so intensely, so deeply,

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and yet you can't reach them and they don't want you to cuddle them.

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You know, you call their name and they don't even look round.

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You try and give them a kiss and it makes them cry.

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Desperate to help Oak, Rowan and her husband Eric decided to take a punt on a new technique,

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and it involves getting up close and personal to horses on a special weekend retreat.

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Oak initially went up by himself, then he went up with Eric.

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They use special saddles where you can sit two of you on.

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I think that works really well because then you're holding them tightly.

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Quite often kids with autism like that tight sort of hug.

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Then Oak that weekend started talking, which is just...

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It sounds like I'm making it up but it was just phenomenal.

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He came out with 20 words that weekend.

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To hear him say words again, it was just so emotional. Fabulous.

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Our lives turned at that point.

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Inspired, they set about arranging a group day out to a local stables,

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but Debbie was worried that her 11-year-old autistic son Luke would hate the experience.

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He was standing back and looking.

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I took him down where it was quiet

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and there was a horse in one of the pens.

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This horse was a bit grumpy and just pacing up and down.

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Luke paced with this horse and just walked up and down with him.

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-In harmony with each other?

-Yes.

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Then all of a sudden the horse stopped and got right close

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to the fence, and Luke put his hand through and then pulled it out again.

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Then the horse just stayed there, quite calm.

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Then Luke got his head right under, put his arms right round the horse and snuggled his face in.

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And this horse was really grumpy, having a bad day in the office?

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Yes, wouldn't let anyone near it.

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I was filming it, thinking, "Oh, my God."

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-Then this lovely moment that he embraced this horse.

-They bonded?

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Yeah, it was beautiful.

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The group are meeting today to discuss

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how to provide all the PACT Harlow children regular access to horses.

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You need someone whose daughter has left home and they're left with a horse,

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a lovely horse, a family horse.

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Shall we buy a horse? We could do that.

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This organisation really does have the power to change people's lives for the better.

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And what started out as an informal support group is now growing very quickly.

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We're so proud of where we are. Once we have our charity status we can get proper funding

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to do the things we want to do, because we do want to make a difference.

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PACT, for us,

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has given us a wider circle of friends.

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It's just knowing that if there's a problem,

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there's someone there that understands.

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PACT is who I am, really.

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It comes from the heart. It is hard work but then if we don't do this,

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I don't think the opportunities would be out there for the children.

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Oh! All gone!

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Not only has this group faced head-on the struggle to find help for their kids,

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but they've also used their experiences to help others in a similar situation.

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For me, that makes them incredibly inspiring.

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Back now to the world of the scrounger, and the nurse

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who was suspected of stealing another woman's identity.

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Kate McDowell-Foord discovered that somebody else was using her name.

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That's a name she thought was unique.

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Coincidence or something more sinister?

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Well, the NHS counter-fraud team were looking into it to try and find out more.

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Identity theft is bad enough, but seriously, an imposter nurse

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in a position of trust, responsible for life-and-death decisions?

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It doesn't bear thinking about.

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Yes, she's taken a qualification.

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She's working in an NHS hospital.

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I don't know, but there may have been other motives for why this has taken place,

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because we don't know who this person is

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and we don't know why she's undertaken the action that she has.

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That's why it is so crucially important to be on top of this, isn't it?

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Absolutely. What you've also got to look at is, however good her work record might have been,

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you've actually got somebody who's proven to be dishonest.

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If this nurse is proved to be an imposter,

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then not only have patients potentially been at risk for the past seven years,

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but she's also dishonestly claimed £230,000 in earnings

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and pilfered a £40,000 training bursary.

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She had to be stopped.

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The investigation had so far focused on a copy of her passport held on the nurse's personnel file.

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The passport number exactly matched the one that the real Kate McDowell-Foord had reported

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missing in the post ten years ago,

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but the thing is, it had a different date of birth.

0:21:060:21:08

Going back to 2000, when Ms McDowell-Foord

0:21:100:21:13

applied for her new passport, her new husband completed the form.

0:21:130:21:18

And it appears now that the date of birth for Ms McDowell-Foord

0:21:180:21:24

was entered incorrectly.

0:21:240:21:27

And Ms McDowell-Foord was born in April 1966, and he put down she was born in June 1966.

0:21:270:21:35

So the new passport issued that went missing from the UKPA

0:21:350:21:38

bore the date of birth of June 1966, which as a result from then on

0:21:380:21:45

gave some degree of legitimacy to the false McDowell-Foord,

0:21:450:21:51

because it was a different date of birth now on all the records.

0:21:510:21:54

Unbelievable. If Kate's new husband had got her date of birth correct

0:21:550:22:00

in the first place, the identity theft may have come to light sooner.

0:22:000:22:04

Now investigators were sure that the passport on file was a forgery,

0:22:060:22:11

and that nurse McDowell-Foord was a fake.

0:22:110:22:14

The National Insurance card also held on her employee file was tracked to a person in east London.

0:22:150:22:23

The NHS fraud squad felt they now had enough evidence to make their move.

0:22:230:22:28

On 11th May 2010, the police arrested the fake McDowell-Foord.

0:22:300:22:35

But to bang this woman to rights, it was imperative the investigators find original copies

0:22:380:22:42

of the forged documents, so officers conducted a detailed search of her home,

0:22:420:22:47

and they weren't disappointed.

0:22:470:22:51

This is the UK passport that was found

0:22:510:22:55

that had the picture of Nurse McDowell-Foord.

0:22:550:22:59

This is the missing passport dispatched in December 2000.

0:22:590:23:03

This was subsequently examined by a forensic officer, who established

0:23:030:23:08

that the picture had been tampered with and the replacement placed in.

0:23:080:23:14

But there was more.

0:23:140:23:16

A forged birth certificate was also found, complete with a glaring error.

0:23:160:23:22

The birth certificate, for instance,

0:23:220:23:24

was proven to be a forgery by the obvious mistake.

0:23:240:23:27

For this particular birth certificate

0:23:270:23:30

they've recorded the town as Lutterworth, County of Surrey,

0:23:300:23:33

and in fact Lutterworth is in Leicestershire and there is no Lutterworth in Surrey.

0:23:330:23:40

Other documents found were forged education certificates.

0:23:400:23:46

You see, when the imposter applied for her nursing degree course

0:23:460:23:51

and the 40 grand training bursary, she was required to provide details

0:23:510:23:55

of her Ghanaian qualifications and an address for verification.

0:23:550:23:59

The university then wrote to the examining body at the PO Box given.

0:23:590:24:05

It is in response to that that they received this certificate,

0:24:050:24:11

purportedly with the photograph of McDowell-Foord with her grades.

0:24:110:24:17

But it was a fake, conjured up to order by a gang controlling the PO Box address in Ghana.

0:24:170:24:22

The fact she was able to provide this document

0:24:220:24:25

clearly links her to organised criminal networks

0:24:250:24:28

that are able to supply documents to commit fraud.

0:24:280:24:31

Other material found at the home address were e-mails and other letters.

0:24:320:24:37

She is clearly communicating with family back in Ghana.

0:24:370:24:41

There were Christmas cards, there were birthday cards,

0:24:410:24:45

and all indication clearly gave the impression her name was Charlotte Larbi.

0:24:450:24:49

Bingo. Finally, this scrounger's true identity had been revealed.

0:24:510:24:55

Charlotte Larbi.

0:24:550:24:57

For Peter Gorman, who dedicated two years to the case, it was a fantastic result.

0:24:570:25:02

What pleased me most about this investigation is that

0:25:040:25:08

a person who suspected that her identity has been used,

0:25:080:25:12

could have the confidence to report this matter and that all efforts

0:25:120:25:16

to verify that information to protect people within the NHS will be carried out.

0:25:160:25:22

In April 2010, Charlotte Larbi was summoned to court.

0:25:260:25:30

She pleaded guilty to obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception.

0:25:300:25:35

In other words, using forged documents

0:25:350:25:38

to obtain earnings of £230,000 and a training bursary of £40,000.

0:25:380:25:44

The total she pilfered from the public purse was £270,000.

0:25:440:25:49

Then in July 2010, she returned to court to receive punishment.

0:25:510:25:55

She was slammed with an eight-month prison sentence.

0:25:550:25:59

Upon release, we'll be expecting that the UKPA will then be looking to deport her.

0:26:030:26:08

So that's her over and done with in this country.

0:26:080:26:10

-Yes.

-Good on you. Another good job done.

-Thank you.

0:26:100:26:14

The sentence, I feel, is fair. It must be shown

0:26:140:26:17

that persons who use false documents to obtain employment

0:26:170:26:22

will be prosecuted and can face the full weight of the law.

0:26:220:26:26

I'm very impressed and relieved that it's sorted.

0:26:260:26:30

Impressed that Peter Gorman sorted it out.

0:26:300:26:32

He knew what he was doing and the upshot is that I can get on with my life

0:26:320:26:36

and feel that it's completely sorted, you know.

0:26:360:26:40

This was a serious case of fraud.

0:26:400:26:43

Nearly £250,000 worth of taxpayers' money was being paid

0:26:430:26:46

to someone using a fake ID so that she could work in the UK.

0:26:460:26:50

But she got caught and now she's in prison.

0:26:500:26:52

Except this time she has to use her real name.

0:26:520:26:55

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:27:180:27:21

E-mail [email protected]

0:27:210:27:25

Dominic Littlewood presents a series looking at the work of fraud investigators searching out benefit thieves and meets the people they are stealing from - the genuine claimants.

An imposter steals an innocent woman's identity and lands herself a job as a nurse, helping her to defraud the NHS out of £270,000.

Plus a group of parents with autistic children work together to cope, and find help in the most surprising place - a stable.


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