A MOTHER will spend Christmas behind bars after being jailed for 15 months for benefit fraud totalling more than £91,000.
Elaine June Hetherington, 53, falsely claimed a total of £91,913 in income support, housing benefit and council tax relief, claiming that she lived alone with a child at her Colescliffe Crescent home in Barrowcliff, Scarborough.
Investigations revealed that Hetherington’s husband was living with her and holding down various jobs – including working offshore – during the 10-year period of the false claims.
Matthew Donkin, prosecuting, told how the period over which Hetherington made her false claims may have been even longer and the amount she received greater but, because of changes in the benefits system, some of the earlier paperwork could not be accessed.
Initially when confronted by investigators Hetherington denied any wrongdoing.
But after being presented with evidence of a joint bank account, her husband’s registration with a GP and other matters, she admitted it.
Hetherington, who was of previous good character, appeared before York Crown Court for sentencing, having previously admitted nine charges of obtaining benefits by deception.
The court heard that since being charged in 2010, Hetherington had been paying off what she owed at £750 per month.
Chloe Fairley, mitigating, said that Hetherington was “utterly terrified” at the thought of prison and asked the court to suspend any sentence to allow her client to keep her own job and maintain the repayments.
Miss Fairley said that the extra money had not been used for living the high life by Hetherington, but to support her family because her husband’s gambling and alcohol addictions meant that any money he earned “evaporated”.
Recorder Deborah Sherwin said that many other people were experiencing difficulties but did not resort to methods which gave them an illegal income, and that only an immediate custodial sentence was appropriate in the case.
Passing sentence, she said that perhaps morally others should be in the dock with Hetherington, but added that it was the fact that she had been the one who signed the false declarations to obtain the benefits.