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Wickford woman exposed by Echo pays back wrongly claimed legal aid
A WOMAN has paid back her legal aid claim after the Echo revealed she had forked out £230,000 in cash for a house.
Cathrine McCann, 53, claimed legal aid as she fought to stay living on an illegal traveller pitch called Hampton Court, just a few hundred metres away from her five-bedroom house in Hovefields Avenue, Wickford.
Mrs McCann started a six-year legal battle in 2004 to try to stay on the illegal pitch, claiming her family didn’t have enough money to buy a caravan on a legal pitch, had a cultural aversion to traditional homes and that they would be homeless if Basildon Council evicted them.
But, in May 2008, the Echo revealed how Mrs McCann bought the house, called Southview, with no mortgage.
She has now paid back more than £6,500 to the Legal Aid Agency.
No where to go: Southview bought for £230,000
A spokesman for the agency said: “The Legal Aid Agency always seeks to recover any costs wrongly paid from the public purse.
“Legal aid is taxpayers’ money and we have a duty to make sure it is not being spent on those we believe can afford to pay towards their legal costs.”
Following our investigation, the legal aid money was revoked and the case referred to Essex Police.
In 2009, she was charged with making a fraudulent legal aid claim and Mrs McCann argued in court that it was an innocent mistake as she was not aware she had to notify the agency of any changes and blamed her solicitor for not pointing it out.
At a re-trial in 2011 she was found not guilty of fraud, but Blackfriars Crown Court heard the money was wrongly claimed by Mrs McCann and she was ordered to pay the prosecution costs plus the legal aid back, which totalled £6,580, including subsequent interest.
Paid back: Cathrine McCann
The agency has been pursuing the debt since then and a case at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court last month adjourned the matter until October to assess repayments.
However, Mrs McCann has now paid the debt in full.
The spokesman added: “The sum represents the original recovery order made against Ms McCann, plus interest and the agency's legal costs.”
In 2010, the McCanns lost the legal battle to stay on the pitch and it was demolished along with a number of others by Basildon Council.
Hovefields after the eviction, above, The White Horse below, and Mrs McCann (holding cheque) and husband Gerry (far right) with regulars, bottom
Three months after being evicted she bought the White Horse pub in Otham near Maidstone, Kent, for £250,000 cash at auction and began running it with husband Gerry McCann.