A 28-year-old mother of five young children has begun a prison sentence for a £46,000 benefit fraud while her husband continues to evade police after a "bogus" death certificate was produced in his name.
Sarah Butt was jailed for 18 months after Judge Bruce Carr said she had “milked the public purse” for benefits after she and her husband Kashif Butt, paid cash for a brand new car, bought a four-bed £275,000 house and claimed to be renting it to continue receiving benefits from Watford Borough Council and had up to £100,000 in various bank accounts.
All the time Kashif Butt said he was earning just £256.53 a month as a warehouseman for Rainbow Plastics Limited, when he was driving around in a £25,000 station wagon he paid cash for, was depositing thousands of pounds at a time and owned the lease on a shop, St Albans Crown Court heard.
During investigations Kashif Butt went to Pakistan and while away the authorities received a death certificate from a hospital, which is now part of a perverting the course of justice investigation by Hertfordshire Constabulary.
Mrs Butt, formerly Wickerson, pleaded guilty to seven counts of carrying out benefit fraud along with her husband, in a claim which was fraudulent from the start.
Robin Griffith, prosecuting, said the pair fraudulently claimed £46,507.97 over four years after an initial application for council tax and housing benefits was received by Watford Borough Council from Mr Butt in 2003.
During the time the couple were living in Berry Lane, Watford, Mr Butt took out a lease on a mini-supermarket in Leavesden Road, Watford.
In 2006 a four-bedroom semi-detached house was bought in Sandringham Road in Mrs Butt's name, which the couple claimed to be renting from a Mrs S Butler to enable them to rake in more benefits. When investigators became suspicious they produced a fake shorthold tenancy agreement in an attempt to cover their deception.
Mrs Butt's name was on the mortgage application stating she was a post office manager at the Leavesden Road shop, while informing the council she was unemployed.
Up to £20,000 a time was being deposited into accounts, and counting only amounts of £500 and over the prosecution said a figure “in excess” of £100,000 was paid in from “undisclosed sources”.
Mr Griffith said: “We characterise this as a deliberate fraud of some sophistication over a long period of time.
“There was an adjournment because the defence said Mr Butt had unhappily died in Pakistan, which seems to be entirely false and there are proceedings for perverting the course of justice taking place.
“We have since received documentation to show that the purported death certificate is bogus and information from the hospital where he was supposed to have been taken, shows he did not.”
He added: “That is not to be held against Mrs Butt, I merely add it for background to the case.”
In interview Mrs Butt maintained Mrs Butler was the landlady of their home in Sandringham Road. She said her husband filled out all the paperwork and she thought they were renting the property.
The shop at the post office was her sister's and she helped out occasionally, Mrs Butt told investigators.
She refused to answer questions at a second interview.
Joanna Staples, defending, pointed out her client was a woman of previous good character, who had carried out the fraud at “the behest” of her husband.
Asking the judge to suspend any prison sentence Miss Staples said: “Without any disrespect to my client she is not a worldly wise woman.
“She left school with a few low grade GCSEs and has had two jobs as a shop assistant in Watford card shops.
“She is 28 and has five children, the first when she was 20 or 21, ranging from seven months to eight-years-old.
“She said that although she knew the benefit forms were wrong she went along with it to avoid a fight.
“There may be an underlying trigger to these offences where Mrs Butt has the desire to please her husband, which can maybe linked to low self esteem and lack of assertiveness.
“Her husband was the prime offender and he led her into the other offences.”
Miss Staples said Mr Butt had taken the money and his wife was now living penniless, still drawing benefits, with her sister.
Sentencing at St Albans Crown Court on Friday, Judge Carr said: “For four years you and your husband made repeated representations to Watford Borough Council which you knew to be false.
“In excess of £100,000 was coming into a bank account. You weren't a poverty stricken mother trying to eke out a living for you and your children. You have milked the public purse.
“You decided to claim benefits for a house that you owned, saying your husband was earning just £256 a month from a firm which was out of business.
“To assist your bogus claim you produced a bogus tenancy agreement.
“This is a very bad case of benefit fraud. You were plainly living together and had a very good lifestyle with your husband for four years.
“I am very conscious of the need not to sentence you for the crimes of your husband in his absence.
“The prime mover was your husband and were he standing next to you in the dock the sentence would be substantially greater than I will impose on you.”
Having passed the 18-month sentence Judge Carr added: “I make no order for costs. You have no substantial means and ongoing responsibility for a large and young family.
“Any resources you have I would want to see spent on the upbringing of the children.”