Benefit cheat avoids jail

A MOTHER who conned more than £20,000 in benefits out of the public purse has been told to do unpaid work for the community.She also narrowly avoided jail thanks to letters written by her children and partner being handed to magistrates.

A MOTHER who conned more than £20,000 in benefits out of the public purse has been told to do unpaid work for the community.

She also narrowly avoided jail thanks to letters written by her children and partner being handed to magistrates.

Anita Paternoster claimed £21,209.67 in housing and council tax benefits when she had £32,000 in savings.

South East Suffolk Magistrates Court heard that the 40-year-old, of Tennyson Close, Woodbridge repeatedly signed council forms declaring that all the information was true.

However for a five-year period she failed to tell Suffolk Coastal District Council that she had a small fortune stashed in her six bank accounts.

Paternoster, who looks after five children belonging to herself and her partner while he works, pleaded guilty to nine counts of dishonestly claiming benefits between April 2001 and January 2006.

Most Read

Ian DePrez, prosecuting for the council, said Paternoster knew that declaring her savings would have affected her benefits.

He said she had paid back more than £10,000 since admitting her guilt but still owed £10,394.

Mr DePrez added that initially Paternoster insisted the savings belonged to her children but later changed her plea and conceded that she had been dishonest.

Neil Saunders, mitigating, urged magistrates not to send his client to prison for the sake of the children.

The court heard that the children wrote to magistrates pleading for their mother not to be jailed.

Mr Saunders said: “She understands that taking public money is wrong when one is not entitled to it. She is very sorry.

“The consequences of sending her into custody would be catastrophic, the loss of her as a mother would truly be a catastrophe.”

Mr Saunders said a pre-sentence report prepared by the probation service had assessed Paternoster's risk as a re-offender as being “non existent”.

He added: “She has had the fright of her life, she has made a huge mistake over a period of time.”

Magistrates sentenced Paternoster to 12 weeks in prison but suspended the term for a year.

She was also told to do 180 hours unpaid work and she was ordered to pay £150 towards court costs.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter