Burnley court hears how mum of two in £30,000 benefits fraud flew to Australia for a month with her children's dad but said they weren't in a relationship

A 41-year-old mother of two admitted dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit when she appeared before Burnley Magistrates Court.
A 41-year-old mother of two admitted dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit when she appeared before Burnley Magistrates Court.

A mum of two, who got almost £30,000 in a handouts fraud, flew to Australia  for a month with her children’s dad -but claimed they weren’t in a relationship, a court heard.

Debbie Bowler ( 41) said her romance with Scott Strachan, the father of her two young children, had ended.

Prosecutors, who say her benefits claim was dishonest from the start, claimed they shared a house and told the hearing they went on the month-long family holiday to Australia together.

Burnley Magistrates’ Court was told that in March, 2016, Bowler had told the DWP she lived alone.

She claimed to a judge Mr Strachan later started staying with her three nights a week, but she slept on the sofa.

Her solicitor told the hearing she had “misunderstood” the relevant legislation.

Bowler got £29, 247.71 of taxpayers’ cash she wasn’t entitled to. She is now working part-time at a supermarket and is paying back the money. The defendant could have been facing jail, but was spared.

Mr Carl Gaffney, prosecuting, said: "Pretty much all of the documentation relates to what we say is a shared property. There were bank accounts going to the shared address.”

Mr Trevor Grice, defending Bowler, said her ex-partner owned the house and he was the father of her two young children. She was suffering depression after her 22-year-old son tragically died suddenly in July 2018 and her ex-partner would stay three nights a week to assist with the children.

The solicitor continued: " She is adamant it was only three nights a week. He stayed in the bed and she stayed on the sofa."

Mr Grice went on: " She says she was under a misapprehension. She was under the impression a person could stay at the premises for three days without her notifying the authorities.

"She says on that basis she made the decision to allow him to stay. It was a misunderstanding of the relevant legislation.”

A probation officer who interviewed the defendant said when Bowler initially made the claim for universal credit, it wasn’t fraudulent as she was no longer in a relationship with Mr Strachan.

After her eldest son died, it was a very difficult and traumatic time for her. The officer continued: " She had two young children to cope with and found it very, very difficult.

"Mr Strachan was very supportive in terms of helping her with the children. She continues to have a very good relationship with Mr Strachan, who continues to help and support her with the children.”

Sentencing, District Judge James Clarke said Bowler had no previous convictions and had entered a prompt guilty plea. He told her: " You were under significant personal strain at the time and continue to be."

The defendant, of Ruskin Avenue, Colne, admitted dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit.

She was given a 12-month community order, with a 12-day rehabilitation activity requirement and a 10-week curfew order.