A BENEFITS cheat who stole £45,000 of public money has been spared prison — because of the effect a jail sentence would have on her children.
Mother of three Emma Horner, 31, of Balfour Street, Horninglow, spent five years claiming single parent benefits despite being married.
Her lies came to light when the authorities discovered a joint bank account she shared with husband Michael.
Judge John Maxwell told her: “It’s plain this was dishonest from the beginning. You pretended that you were a single woman, but the truth is you did have a husband. You married him a few days after these claims started.
“For you to go to prison would have a devastating effect on the children.”
Instead the judge imposed an 11-month suspended prison term.
Stafford Crown Court heard Horner made claims for income support, housing benefits and council tax benefits.
The claims began in August 2006 when she stated she was a single woman expecting a child and had no income. Just over a week later, she got married.
Laura Hobson, prosecuting, said the false benefit claims went on for nearly five years and involved a total of £45,183.
Horner admitted four charges of benefit fraud — making false representations to obtain money.
Miss Hobson said evidence came to light that the defendant and her husband were living together.
They had a joint bank account into which his wages and her benefits were paid. Mr Horner was registered at the same address as his wife.
When questioned, Horner denied that the couple were living together and said the marriage was a ‘sham’.
Nick Smith, defending, said Horner now accepted the seriousness of the offence. “She is thoroughly ashamed of what she had done,” he said.
Mr Smith said Horner’s husband was away a lot as a long-distance lorry driver and she felt under pressure.
There was a background of drugs which reared its head from time to time and she recently tested positive for crack cocaine, Mr Smith said.
Along with the suspended jail sentence, the judge also made Horner subject to a drug treatment and testing order.