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Father of 12 is jailed for benefit fraud

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A PREGNANT mother of 12 has been left to fend for her family after her husband was jailed yesterday for benefit fraud.

A PREGNANT mother of 12 has been left to fend for her family after her husband was jailed yesterday for benefit fraud. Joanne Watson, 36, was given a three-month suspended sentence for the same offence, but her husband, John, 42, who has a previous conviction for dishonesty, will spend that time behind bars.

The couple, of 19, Route des Coutures, St Martin's, admitted a total of six charges. They fraudulently obtained £4,761 in supplementary benefit and £2,810 in rent rebate.

He was charged on two counts alone and asked for 14 other offences to be taken into consideration while she was charged jointly with him on a further four with 12 others to be taken into consideration.

He apologised when they appeared before the Magistrate's Court yesterday.

'First of all I apologise to the people of Guernsey for using their purse. My wife is sitting alongside me and she has never done anything wrong in her life before,' he said.

'I'm sorry for what I have done, for using Guernsey's purse, because I have always worked hard and I have always provided for my family.

'My wife is a proud and very good mother. I feel I have let the whole side down.'

He said his wife had begged him not to commit the offences, to which she also signed her name.

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'Jo had nothing to do with it. She told me not to do it but I just kept doing it,' he said.

'I wanted to provide for my family. My wife should not be sitting here with me. I should be punished, not her. I have a job out there waiting for me if that is to be,' he said.

Advocate Liam Roffey, prosecuting, told the court the couple had claimed from July 2005 until January when Social Security began an investigation sparked by public concern.

The court heard how he had received payment on four occasions for work with Guernsey Electricity.

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'He received payment after working at the Hotel de Havelet on 31 December 2005 and 31 December 2006 as a DJ from which he received £600 on each occasion,' said Advocate Roffey.

He said that the pair had received an undisclosed sum of five medical insurance payments in relation to the husband's health problems.

The pair had also received £200 for an article that appeared in UK magazine Love It this year.

'These payments should have been declared and are part of the matters to be taken into consideration,' said Advocate Roffey.

He said Watson had told police during an interview that he knew he was doing wrong by claiming benefits and working but wanted to provide for his large family.

'He was feeling desperate and under pressure,' he said.

The court heard how the couple have so far paid back £280 of the supplementary benefit.

Advocate Chris Green, for the father, urged assistant-Magistrate Philip Robey to consider a suspended sentence due to his client's early guilty plea.

'There is no evidence that the money was being used for anything other than providing for the family,' he said.

'Mr Watson was desperate during this period and under pressure because of his family's circumstances. He was not able to work to provide for his family after being seriously assaulted and left incapacitated.

'Mr Watson has an exceptionally large family. He currently has 12 children and a 13th is expected in January. There will be a big impact on his children if he is sent to prison. His family will struggle to cope with life. He has a job as a haulage driver, but when he comes home from work he often bathes and feeds his children at night.

'His family will suffer if he is sent to prison.'

Advocate Green said his client had an unlikelihood of reoffending.

Advocate Paul Lockwood, appearing for Watson's wife, said his client's experience of the criminal justice system had impacted on her enough not to re-offend.

'She expects a great deal of interest from the public and the media,' he said.

'She is deeply upset and feels she can no longer hold her head high.'

He said his client accepted that she knew her husband was committing benefit fraud, but did not want to report him.

'She felt unable to inform against her husband but accepts it was the wrong decision. Perhaps it is not entirely impossible to sympathise,' he added.

After taking more than 30 minutes to consider sentence, Mr Robey said she had 'just escaped' a custodial sentence because it was her first offence.

'Both of you knew what you were doing was wrong,' he said.

In sentencing the husband, he said that a lot of good had been said about him but he had 'failed by cheating the Guernsey taxpayer'.

He said he could not ignore his previous conviction for dishonesty 10 years ago.

'I do note that was a suspended sentence. However it would be entirely inappropriate to suspend this sentence.'

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