A Birmingham mother of four who falsely claimed more than £77,000 in benefits, lavishing cash on holidays to exotic locations including Florida, has avoided being jailed.
Sharon Kirkpatrick was handed a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay £250 costs and carry out community service after the court was told she had to look after her autistic son.
Kirkpartrick had claimed she was unemployed while she was secretly earning money working for Whitbreads brewery.
Birmingham Crown Court was told that she enjoyed regular foreign holidays, including at least two to Florida, despite claiming she was impoverished.
Judge Rupert Mayo said: “Most right thinking people regard holidays abroad as luxuries” and said that the sole reason he was not sending Kirkpatrick to prison immediately was because she had an autistic son she had to look after.
Kirkpatrick, who had previously admitted three charges of failing to notify a change of circumstances, was sentenced to 52 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years.
The defendant was also ordered to do 220 hours unpaid work and pay £250 costs.
Laura Hobson, prosecuting at Birmingham Crown Court, said Kirkpatrick had been claiming income support and housing and council tax benefits since 1990 on the basis she was a single parent with no other income.
She said a condition of her receiving the benefits was that she notify the Department of Work and Pensions or Birmingham City Council if there was a change in her circumstances.
Miss Hobson said the defendant failed to reveal that in 2003 her partner and father of her four children began living with her.
Various evidence was obtained to confirm this including proof that both of them had been on holiday at the same time in Florida.
Kirkpatrick had completed a number of forms over the six-year period of the fraud when she failed to declare she was with her partner Mr Anthony Fellows.
It also came to light, she said, that from the end of 2008 Kirkpatrick had been working at Whitbreads for 20 hours a week at £5.23 an hour which was in excess of the permitted amount.
When interviewed Kirkpatrick admitted she had been working and had gone on the holidays but denied Mr Fellows was living with her.
Tom Challinor, defending, said “Kirkpatrick has not had an easy life. She has spent the last 20 years or so bringing up her children and has found it difficult to make ends meet.”
He said that her now ex-partner was a drug addict, alcoholic and gambler and, although there were periods of time he was around, there were others when he was away from the family home.
Mr Challinor said Mr Fellows had taken out loans, spending the money on drink and drugs and that Kirkpatrick had been left to “pick up the pieces”.
He claimed money spent on the holidays to Florida had come from the sale of Mr Fellows’s father’s house and it had not been a case of the defendant living an extravagant lifestyle.
She is a deliberate, long term thief.