Irresponsible Melanie Edwards, aged 40, claimed she was a single mum living alone with her kids. But she was still with husband Brian and they were both working at a factory – and they carried on having children.
Edwards added four kids to her family during the five years she pocketed about £154,000 by benefit fraud, Plymouth Crown Court heard. Her youngest is 22 months old.
Edwards and her husband Brian promptly drove away from the courtroom ignoring that question repeated by The Herald's reporter.
The court heard that she is paying back the money in reductions from her legitimate continuing benefits. It is not known how many years it will take to get close to repaying the cash.
Edwards, of Lamerton near Tavistock, admitted three counts of benefit fraud by failing to disclose she was living with her working husband between 2009 and 2014. She pocketed £144,113 in tax credits; £9,606 in housing benefits and £988.47 council tax relief.
Francesca Whebell, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said Edwards claimed benefits as a single mum. She added that the claim was genuine at first but husband Brian moved back in. Miss Whebell said they were both working alternate shifts at Kensey Foods at Launceston, though it is thought she has since given up work.
William Parkhill, for Edwards, said the amount she pocketed was "almost breathtaking". He added that her children ranged from adults to the youngest at 22 months old.
Judge Darlow asked: "Why just not have fewer children?" Mr Parkhill admitted: "That would be an option." But he added that jail would have an impact on the children – with four of them aged under five.
Mr Parkhill said: "She now faces an awkward conversation with her 12 children to explain what she has done." He added that the family did not live a "life of luxury" but instead shared a three-bedroom house. The lawyer said that ironically she would have been entitled to claim high sums legitimately even if she had been truthful in her claims.
Mr Parkhill said Mr Edwards worked three days a week, but was hoping to increase that to four.
Suspending her prison sentence, Judge Paul Darlow told her:
It is only your children who have kept this sentence from being immediate.Because she can. Because the enforcement authorities don't seem to have thought it worth while taking a look at a woman who claimed to be a single parent but who was accumulating children at a rate of knots.
One has to wonder why you have so many children when you cannot support them without the state.
And because people like you, judge, don't punish her.