Mother from Berkeley who claimed benefits by pretending her son had cancer is jailed

A MOTHER from Berkeley who pretended her young son had cancer by shaving his head and eyebrows so she could falsely claim benefits has been jailed.

The 36-year-old put her son in a wheelchair and made him wear a bandana on his shaven head to support her false claim that he was seriously ill, Gloucester Crown Court was told today.

Wearing a bandana led to him being ridiculed and bullied by other children.

Her frauds paid for luxuries including a holiday in Florida - where she wheeled her son around in a wheelchair so they could jump queues at theme parks.

In total she obtained more than £85,000 in benefits and tax credits between October 2007 and February 2011.

Jailing her for a total of three years nine months, Judge Jamie Tabor QC told her that her offences had 'potentially caused serious long term emotional and psychological harm' to her son.

The boy has since been taken into care and does not want to see his mother again, the court heard.

The mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted eight charges of fraud, one of cruelty to her son and one of forging a doctor's letter to delay Family Court proceedings.

Lisa Hennessy, prosecuting, told the court that the mother had told his school he was suffering from autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome (ALPS) and the teachers drew up care plans. He was not allowed to run around and play and his siblings were told to be very careful with him.

She said: "In February 2009 he started going to school in a wheelchair. His mother told the school this was because he had a serious problem with his knees.

"In fact he was desperate to get out of his wheelchair and refused to use it when at home. He would be out on the back garden playing on the trampoline rather than resting."

Mrs Hennessy said the 'complex web of lies' began to unravel when the mum separated from her husband, the boy's father, and he was shown doctors' letters at the boy's school which had been forged.

Mrs Hennessy said her arrest was the catalyst for investigations to begin into all the benefits the woman had claimed - a total of £85,898.44 to which she was not entitled.

When interviewed by police about what she had done to her son she said she had shaved his head after giving him a bad haircut and that was why he wore a bandana.

She had one previous conviction for benefit fraud, she added.

Joe Maloney, defending, said medical reports on the mother showed she was not currently mentally ill but she does have a personality disorder.

"She behaves in a way which is unusual and unexplained - and untreatable. She takes a number of medications," he said.

Passing sentence the judge told her that she had exhibited "a long established pattern of untruthfulness and manipulative behaviour involving extensive deceit".

Through most of her adult life she had been a 'congenital liar,' he said.

Judge Tabor added: "You gave no consideration or regard to the long term impact on your son or the levels of emotional and psychological harm you caused him and from which he may never recover.

"In short, this was cruelty over a long period of time."

The judge said he took into account that 'however wickedly' she had behaved she had been significantly punished by losing custody of her children.

He jailed her for two years for cruelty, 18 months consecutively for the eight frauds and three months consecutively for forging a doctor's letter to deceive the Family Court.

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