A LICHFIELD mum who went on a spending spree with £52,000 mistakenly sent to her bank account by the council has been spared jail.
Mother-of-one Michaela Hutchings couldn’t believe her luck when the money appeared on her statement.
But despite fearing it was a huge mistake, she and her partner went to Birmingham’s Bull Ring and over two days splashed out on designer clothes, shoes, jeans, sunglasses and other luxury items.
The 23-year-old also gave her own mother a £1,000 gift.
Meanwhile, officers from Lichfield District Council were frantically hunting for her after realising the money had been transferred to her instead of Bromford Housing Association.
In the nick of time, the council did manage to stop a further transfer of £44,500 to her in the accounts mix up, Stafford Crown Court heard.
Mr Paul Farrow, prosecuting, said that before Hutchings was traced and arrested, she had spent over £9,000.
Most of the money, £40,000, she put in to an investment account – on the advice of her bank.
That account is now frozen under a restraining order and Hutchings will face an investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover all the money.
Hutchings, of Hamlin Walk, Lichfield admitted a charge of dishonestly retaining a wrongly credited bank transfer.
Recorder Mr Derek Desmond made her subject to a 12-month community order, with 150 hours of unpaid community work.
The judge told her: “On 24 April last year, a little over £52,000 was put in to your account in error. That had nothing to do with you.
“You didn’t cause that error, but you decided to keep it, knowing, after a short while it was wrong and you failed to take resonable steps to cancel it.
“I have no doubt you were influenced by your partner... he wanted to spend the money.
“You went on a spending spree and between you you spent £9,000.
“This man who spurred you on is no longer in your life – no doubt your family will be glad about that.”
Hutchings burst in to tears when the judge set her free and left the court crying.
Mr Phillip Bradley, defending, said that in her pre-sentence report: “She admitted to a fleeting moment of pleasure in spending the money, having the freedom to purchase whatever items she wanted.
“However, in her mind she was aware this situation would end badly.
“This was a woman who had shown no sign of dishonesty in her life.
“She wasn’t helped by having the sort of partner who ill-treated her and didn’t provide the sort of support she needed.
“She was geed along [by her partner].
“Even when she was in custody that money was being spent.”
Mr Bradley said that as soon as Hutchings’ mother became aware that the £1,000 gift was not legitimate, it was immediately returned.
Councillor Christopher Spruce, cabinet member for finance, democratic and legal services at Lichfield District Council, said: “Last April, due to a contractor’s clerical error, £52,000 was transferred to a benefits claimant, rather than to one of our housing association partners.
“We are working with the police to recover the wrongly transferred funds.
“We are also working closely with our partners to put additional checks into our systems to ensure a similar payment error cannot happen again in the future.
“Whilst this is an exceptional case and clearly a criminal offence, it shows how important it is that people always check their benefit payments to make sure they are paid the right amount.
“Spending money you are not entitled to is against the law.”