The Queensland woman who stole the identity of the helicopter pilot who died in the Sea World tragedy has been issued a hefty fine — almost double the amount of the original one she tried desperately to get out of.
Stephanie Louise Bennett confessed to using dead pilot Ashley Jenkinson's identity after she was caught on her mobile phone while behind the wheel on December 15.
In court on Friday, the 33-year-old wept as she pleaded guilty to fraud by dishonestly inducing a person to act and one count of obtaining or dealing with another's identity to commit an indictable offence.
The mother-of-two argued she could not afford the initial $1078 fine and the four demerit points she faced would leave her without a licence. She had just started a new job as a forklift driver at a warehouse, and if her licence was suspended, she feared she would lose her job. So, she scoured the obituary notices to pin the fine on another driver.
'Quite easy to do'
Eventually, she landed on Ashley Jenkinson, who tragically died when the helicopter he was flying collided with another on the Gold Coast in January. She filled out his name and date of birth and created a fake address.
According to her lawyer, Zane Chapman, Ms Bennett had never met Mr Jenkinson or his devastated partner Kosha Richardson, and his name didn't ring a bell. Ms Bennett also didn't pay much attention to the news and was oblivious to the publicity surrounding the Gold Coast tragedy, he added.
"She has nominated someone online ... it was quite easy to do," Mr Chapman said. "That is in no way to diminish my client's conduct ... what she has done is dishonest and she is remorseful. There is no excuse for her conduct."
The alarm was reportedly raised when the pilot's widow received the fine in the mail and two fraud offences followed.
Mum 'deeply embarrassed' by 'grave mistake'
Mr Chapman said Ms Bennett was deeply embarrassed and had been subjected to enormous public humiliation. "She has been publicly humiliated and is embarrassed to be before the court," he said.
Magistrate Mark Howden acknowledged the mum had made a "grave mistake", one that would have been deeply distressing to Mr Jenkinson's grieving family who reported the identity theft, but declined to give a victim impact statement.
"I accept that you have been publicly humiliated at work among friends and acquaintances," Mr Howden said. "And I accept that that humiliation is in all likelihood ongoing."
Ms Bennett, who choked back tears as the magistrate said her deception "struck at the heart of the justice system", was fined $2000 — almost double the original fine — and a conviction was recorded.
Outside the court, Mr Chapman apologised on behalf of his client, who disguised her face in a scarf and glasses. "She wishes to express her sincerest apologies to the families, specifically to anyone she's hurt," Mr Chapman said.
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