A woman who claimed close to a quarter of a million pounds in fake benefit claims escaped going to jail on Monday because of her four children.
Describing the case against 37-year-old Gemma McCartan as “one of the worst I have come across,” Newry Crown Court Judge Gordon Kerr QC revealed that with the rate she’s repaying the £212,997 she swindled from the state, “it would take 276 years” for her to make full restitution.
He said while her offences clearly merited a jail sentence, “the court will always be slow to send someone to prison where there are young children’s futures involved.”
He said the “one factor that sways the court” was the medical evidence in relation to two of her children so it was “with a degree of reluctance” that he was suspending her two year prison sentence for three years.
Appearing at court via videolink from her solicitors office McCartan, from Ardfield Crescent in Warrenpoint, pleaded guilty to eight counts of benefit fraud in relation to income support and housing benefit over a 14 year period beginning on April 18, 2002.
Prosecuting counsel Geraldine McCullough told the court how McCartan filed claims for income support and housing benefit but had failed to disclose that she was living with her partner, adding that both claims were “fraudulent from the outset.”
She revealed that in total, McCartan had received overpayments totalling £212,997, adding that she had already entered a repayment scheme and had paid some of it back.
Judge Kerr said that going by the repayment rate, he had calculated “it would take 276 years” to pay it all back.
Ms McCullough said while McCartan has admitted her guilt and had a clear record, the offences were aggravated because of how long they lasted, that they were fraudulent from the start and the “extremely large amount of money” involved.
Defence counsel Bobbie Rea outlined how McCartan was left with four children with no help or support from her ex-husband and that despite the large amount involved, “there’s no evidence of a lavish lifestyle.”
“It’s an horrendous amount of money and an horrendous period of time,” conceded the lawyer who made an impassioned plea to Judge Kerr to treat the case as an exceptional one given the medical evidence about two of her four children.
Sentencing McCartan, the judge highlighted that essentially, “this woman was stealing in excess of £13,000 every year from the state,” commenting that it was “quite a disgraceful and blatant case of fraud.”
Suspending the jail sentence, the judge told McCartan he had to “make it absolutely clear” that if she reoffended in the next three years, she would have to serve the two year sentence “in addition” to any other sentence.
“This is your chance, you don’t get another one,” warned Judge Kerr.