ANIMAL lover Marlene Howes has been cleared of benefit fraud after using an £84,000 inheritance from her late mother to look after her pedigree cats.
The 67-year-old, from Whitecroft, near Lydney, was accused of hiding the inheritance from the Department of Work and Pensions in order to receive pension credits and council tax discounts.
Mrs Howes, who has 25 Persian cats herself, insisted her mum Barbara Sutton wanted the money to be used to keep her 14 Persian cats as they always had been – in the lap of luxury.
And after examining Mrs Howes’ bank accounts and spending records yesterday, District Judge Joti Bopa-Rai cleared her of acting dishonestly by continuing to claim benefits despite receiving the inheritance.
“It has been a very stressful time,” Mrs Howes told The Citizen after her court appearance. “I am very relieved and happy with the outcome.
“All I have done all along is what my mother instructed me to do. The case should never have been brought to court.”
Mrs Howes told Gloucester Magistrates Court she had received £136,000 from the sale of her late mother's house in Cranbrook Road, Bristol, in 2005. But £52,000 was to be given to the son of her late mother's partner, and there was a verbal agreement for her to look after the cats.
She opened an account specifically for the cats and used the money from it to pay for all their food, litter, vets bills - and even a new conservatory to give them more living space.
The court heard it never occurred to Mrs Howes to notify the Department of Work Pensions or the district council of the estate.
Mrs Howes told the court her mum's prized cats had always had the best of everything and she wanted that to continue after her death.
Judge Bopa-Rai said the money left by Mrs Sutton was running out and would soon be gone.
“It is quite clear the defendant was not living an extravagant lifestyle and the cats took the majority of the money. It is quite clear from all the statement that this defendant’s mother’s main concern was the care of her cats and they were precious to her.”