A Judge has shown mercy on a benefits fiddler after learning that her husband killed himself while waiting to come to court.
Sheena Pattle swindled more than £30,000 of public money over a decade by pretending she was the landlady and carer of her co conspirator Roderick Tugwood rather than his partner.
It enabled him to claim income support and housing benefit which would otherwise have not been paid, Exeter Crown Court was told.
Pattle, aged 50, was spared jail after a Judge was told she is severely depressed after Tugwood killed himself last month at his home in Kenton, near Exeter.
The 54-year-old wheelchair bound man was facing not only benefits fraud charges of £60,000 but also a firearms case in which there was a five year mandatory minimum sentence.
Pattle was his one-off partner and companion from 1998 when he started making false claims and she married him in April this year.
She was helped into Exeter Crown Court by her solicitor and was not required to go into the dock by Judge Phillip Wassall.
Pattle, of Coronation Road, Dawlish, admitted two counts of conspiracy to defraud. They relate to the Department of Work and Pensions and Teignbridge District Council. She was jailed for 12 months, suspended for 12 months.
The judge told her:”It is put to me that you had a long and complex relationship with Mr Tugwood. I am not sure the jury would have seen it that way. When I read the papers I found it difficult to see what the defence would be.
”What we are dealing with is a benefits fraud over a long period of time, which was fraudulent from the outset and came to just under £33,000, which was stolen from the public purse.
“The other side of it is that you were not the leading player and the prosecution case is that your role was secondary.
“In dealing with you I have to look at the position you are now in because of the tragedy which arose as the aftermath of this and other cases involving Mr Tugwood.
“Given what you have gone through in the past few months it is right that your sentence should be suspended.”
Mr Malcolm Galloway, prosecuting, said the false claims started in 1998 and carried on until a DWP investigation in 2009. Those involving Pattle totalled £32,767.91.
He said:”The fraud was relatively simple to the extent he indicated he was living at an address and she was his landlady and so benefit was paid to him and she had access to it.
“It is right to say the documents used in these frauds flowed predominantly from Mr Tugwood. The matter came to light as a result of investigation and it was discovered this defendant and Mr Tugwood were partners.
“There was evidence from those who saw them together and spoke to them during that time. She said in interview she was his carer but could not explain why she had described them as partners in forms for mortgage and credit card applications.
“We are aware they married in April this year and recently the prosecution were informed of the tragic news he had taken his own life, having pleaded guilty to firearms charges which carried a minimum sentence.
“The Crown take the view this matter should be dealt with in the light of the medical evidence which shows that understandably and obviously the defendant is distraught over Mr Tugwood’s death.”
Mr Nicolas Gerasimidis, defending, said:”The circumstances of this case are tragic. He became her husband on April 6 and over the years it has been a long and complicated relationship.
“She has been substantially traumatised and has suffered depression, insomnia and very painful neuropathy, all exacerbated by Mr Tugwood’s untimely demise. Ultimately she has shown contrition and acceptance of what she has done.”