A CARE worker who faced prison for animal cruelty gave magistrates a bogus reference from her boss which described her as "a caring and kind" member of staff.

Margaret Briggs' plan backfired when a court official recognised her handwriting - and she was also hit with a charge of trying to pervert the course of justice.

Yesterday, the shamed 51-year-old, from Thirsk, North Yorkshire, was jailed after a Teesside Crown Court judge told her: "Margaret Briggs and the truth are strangers."

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The court heard how she handed magistrates a "completely false" reference, trying to avoid prison, saying: "I cannot speak highly enough of Maggie . . . we need her."

The fake document described Briggs as "a very valuable member of staff, caring, kind, generous, considerate and knowledgeable" and "good at what she does".

Recorder Toby Hedworth, QC, jailed her for three months after telling her: "Your claim that you were providing evidence of employment was one of many lies.

"Offending in this way strikes at the integrity of the criminal justice system, and a clear message must be sent out that only custody will follow conduct of this sort.

"The public policy requirement of people being straightforward and honest in their dealings with the court requires that there must be an immediate prison sentence."

Briggs, of Cliff Cottage, Boltby, was found guilty after a trial last month, and her barrister, Paul Cleasby, admitted yesterday that her attitude was "challenging".

He urged Mr Recorder Hedworth not to jail Briggs even though the sentencing guidelines say custody should be imposed except in "exceptional circumstances".

Mr Cleasby told the judge: "She has, in the past, served a prison sentence. It is an experience she very much dreads. It is nothing she relishes. She is anxious to avoid it.

"She is currently studying for a degree and any period of custody will, of course, have a significant impact on that. She runs the risk of not being able to qualify."

Mr Recorder Hedworth told Briggs that she had been convicted by the jury on "the clearest possible evidence" and said: "You concocted a completely false reference.

"The reality is, that the manageress (of the home in Northallerton) had serious concerns about your conduct and would never have written such a reference."