A woman accused of fraudulently claiming £22,000 in benefits despite inheriting £50,000 walked free from court today because she spent the money on her cats.
Marlene Howes, 67, was accused of concealing the inheritance so she could continue to claim and receive pension credits for seven years.
But she argued that her mother, Barbara Sutton, had left the money in trust for her 14 Persian cats and several kittens.
Before she died, Mrs Sutton had made her promise the cats would continue to get ‘the best of everything’, the court heard.
Mrs Howes was found not guilty of fraud after producing her accounts and bank statements which proved she only spent the inheritance on the cats.
The paperwork confirmed her claim that she had spent £180 a week looking after the pets – and £30,000 on vets’ bills in seven years.
She today walked free from Gloucester Magistrates Court after District Judge Joti Boparai ruled that she was telling the truth.
She said: ‘I do find the defendant credible and do accept that in her mind what she did was not dishonest and that is the reason she didn’t declare the money. I find her not guilty.’
Mrs Howes, of Whitecroft, Gloucestershire, received the £50,000 after she sold her late mother’s house in 2005.
Keeping her vow: Mrs Howes, 67, said she had promised her late mother to give her 14 Persian cats ‘the best of everything’
She adopted all her mother’s pets and brought them to live with her own 25 pedigree Persian cats.
The pensioner then opened her ‘cats account’ and paid in £50,000, saying it ‘never occurred to her’ to notify the Department of Work and Pensions or the council.
In statements read out to the court, friends and family members reinforced Mrs Howes’ argument and said that it had been a long-standing agreement that she would take care of the cats on her mother’s death.
Jon Holmes, defending, said that Mrs Howes did not think what she was doing was dishonest and was merely acting in accordance with her mother’s wishes.
‘Cat account’: The pensioner spent £180 a week looking after the pets and £30,000 on vets’ bills in seven years
He said: ‘This lady did not for one moment think that this was dishonest. She felt she was acting in accordance with her mother’s instruction by looking after her pedigree cats.’
Judge Boparai said that it was clear from schedules of the bank accounts provided by Mrs Howes’ daughter that all the money had gone on the cats.
She said: ‘It is quite clear that from those schedules the defendant was not living an extravagant life style, the cats took most of the money.
‘It is quite clear the cats are taking a lot of money and they will continue to do so and soon this money will run out.’