A MOTHER-OF-FIVE who falsely claimed more than £68,000 in benefits over four years was spared prison after a judge was told there was no-one to care for her kids.

Judge John Walford accused Tracey Grey of “sucking money” from the vulnerable and said she deserved to go to jail immediately but this would cause a measure of harm to her children.

She is currently repaying £13 a fortnight - which at that rate will take 201 years to clear the debt.

Prosecutor Victoria Lambelle told how Grey, who admitted two counts of failing to notify a change of circumstances, fraudulently claimed a total of £68,917.

This included £56,000 worth of income support payments from the Department of Work and Pensions and the remainder in council tax and housing benefit, paid by Stockton Borough Council.

The 34-year-old, of Jane Walk, Stockton, failed to declare she was living with her partner who was providing financial support - leading to the overpayment.

Jim Withyman, mitigating, said she was a woman of previous good character and the claim had not originally been fraudulent.

He urged the judge to show mercy and said any jail sentence could be suspended given the circumstances and the young family Grey supported.

“She is embarrassed and ashamed by what she has done. She won’t be back before these courts again.”

Judge Walford, who was sitting at Teesside Crown Court, said decent, law abiding, hard working families who struggled to get by without being dishonest would be appalled.

He said: “It is sucking money out of the monies available to help the most vulnerable in society.”

The judge suggested the public would want Grey to go jail, to which Mr Withyman replied: “The banks have got off scot-free for the last five years and they have been doing exactly the same thing to the country.”

Judge Walford said Grey had ample opportunity to declare her true circumstances, but persisted with her deceit.

He conceded that should she be jailed the care of her children would fall to the state and they might suffer some degree of harm as a result.

The judge suspended a nine month sentence on Grey for two years and said she would be supervised by the probation service during that time.