A BENEFITS cheat who pocketed more than £70,000 by claiming to be a single parent was yesterday (Wednesday, January 22) jailed for five months.

Married mother Jillian Wilkinson tried to dodge prison by saying her eight-year-old son would suffer if she was locked up.

But a judge at Teesside Crown Court told the 46-year-old that the often-used plea for mercy could not save her.

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"Courts must send a message out that it is not acceptable in society," said Judge Michael Taylor. "You deprived others."

Wilkinson lied about living with her husband Abdulla Ali Ahmed at a house in Londonderry Road, Stockton, for eight years.

She claimed £71,500 in JobSeekers' Allowance, housing benefit and Council Tax relief before the scam was uncovered.

Despite a pile of evidence to show pizza shop owner Mr Ahmed was living with her and they were married, she continued to lie.

In five interviews with fraud-busters, Wilkinson denied being married and that she had helped in an asylum application.

Prosecutor James Kemp told the court that investigators found a marriage contract and wedding photographs.

Documents from car companies, an accountant, banks and insurance firms also contained Mr Ahmed's name and the address.

Duncan McReddie, mitigating, told Judge Taylor that Wilkinson suffered "an unusual, not to say sad childhood".

"It is perhaps because of that lack of certainty or stability in the past, she used this method to establish a family life."

He urged the judge to consider a "compassionate" suspended sentence so she could "take the role of a mother every eight-year-old child needs".

Judge Taylor told Wilkinson: "It was a huge amount of money . . . this went on for a substantial number of years.

"If you were a man, the submission made on your behalf for mercy could not even be made.

"It gives me no pleasure to send the mother of a young child to prison, but these offences are prevalent."

Wilkinson admitted two charges of failing to notify a chance in circumstances and one of fraud at an earlier hearing.

She sobbed as she was locked up, and her husband, who was in the public gallery, tried to speak to the judge, saying: "No, this is wrong."

The court heard how as well as Mr Ahmed working full-time, Wilkinson also had jobs as a cleaner and at take-away restaurants.

Judge Taylor said: "As is usually the case in these sorts of cases, it is a woman who makes the claim.

"Then the plea that is made on their behalf is that the person who will suffer the most is their child."