A woman has been jailed for almost five years after she and her family faked a neurological condition to scam a local authority out of more than £624,000 - in a case the judge said was possibly the largest fraud of its kind in England.
Frances Noble, 66, pretended that she was bedbound and unable to feed herself, needing round-the-clock care, between January 15 2007 and November 26 2018.
During that time she claimed £624,047.50 from Hertfordshire County Council - money that she, her daughter and her son-in-law treated as personal income, a court heard.
The three spent the cash on trips to the US and were only rumbled when neighbours became suspicious that the supposedly immobile Noble was walking her dog at night.
Prosecutor Andrew Johnson told St Albans Crown Court that Noble forged emails supposedly written by the carers she had hired to look after her at her home in Damask Green Road in Weston, near Hitchin.
He said the care payments from the council were made directly into a bank account under Noble's control.
The court was told that the money was meant to be used solely to pay for her care and was left under her control to give her a sense of autonomy.
At different times she employed her daughter, Laura Borrell, 44, and son-in-law, Philip Borrell, 46, as her carers.
However the court heard that the couple travelled to the US when they were supposed to be looking after her, visiting San Francisco, Boston and Orlando.
At an earlier hearing, Noble, of Rohrwallallee, Berlin, Germany, and Philip and Laura Borrell, of no fixed address, admitted one count of fraud.
Noble admitted a further count of transferring criminal property in the sum of £130,649.46, and the Borrells admitted one joint count of acquiring criminal property amounting to £184,203.65.
The pair also admitted one further count each of acquiring criminal property, in the sum of £39,700 for Laura Borrell and £6,218.92 for Philip Borrell.
Mr Johnson said the trio treated the money as personal income.
He said: "She [Noble] treated it, and the Borrells treated it, not as a payment for the provision of vital services but as personal income with which they could all do as they pleased, and for over a decade they did do as they pleased."
He added that the offending was not just that the money was spent in an "impermissible way" but that it was "also obtained through lies".
The fraud was rumbled when neighbours became suspicious that Noble was mobile, seeing her standing up in the garden and walking her dog at night.
In spring 2018, the council opened an investigation into Noble. Her house was put under surveillance over a period of five days, and no evidence of visits by carers was seen.
The trio were then charged with fraud, but Mr Johnson said that "at some point" Noble moved abroad. He said: "We know that at some point she travelled to Germany.
"There is no evidence at all as to what, if any, arrangements are taking place as to how she is being treated in Germany."
While Noble entered a guilty plea from Germany, she did not attend her sentencing, and the court was told that she remains in Berlin.
A hearing to apply for a bench warrant for her arrest in Germany will take place at a later date.
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