A mother of five from Stroud, Gloucester, has been jailed for nine years, after forcing her seven-year-old son to pretend to have cancer for four years - in order to cheat £86,000 out of the benefits system.
Judge Jamie Tabor said "This was cruelty over a long period of time."
FraudEmma La Garde, 37, announced on Facebook that her son had cancer. She forged a doctor's letter, saying her son had lymphoma - a form of cancer. Then she shaved her son's head and eyebrows, and sent him to school in a wheelchair.
She used the fake illness to cheat the benefits system out of a carer's allowance, tax exemptions and disability benefits. She was given a wheelchair by the Red Cross, and a specially-adapted car. The money was used to send the family on luxury holidays - including a trip to Disney World in Florida.
FoiledThe boy's school, however, was unconvinced by the shaved head - and could see where the eyebrows were being shaved. La Garde had separated from the boy's father, and the school decided to show the forged doctors' letters to him. He contacted social services, and La Garde was arrested.
She pleaded guilty to child cruelty, fraud and forgery and was jailed for eight years and eight months. She has lost custody of all of her children, and at her trial the court heard a statement from the victim saying: "I don't like her, she is evil. She should be normal but I don't think she has a normal brain. I know I don't miss her any more."
Not aloneThere are new and shocking stories about benefit fraud every day. Clearly this is an extreme case, but there's nothing unusual about fraud itself. The government's statistics show that last year £3.2 billion was lost through benefit fraud and error.
It has now made a firm commitment to tackling this fraud. Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said: "We always push for the strongest possible punishment for benefit thieves who are stealing money from the people who need it the most. When it makes financial sense to do so, we will prosecute through the courts but where very little or no money has been stolen we will fine people as well as recover any overpayment, hitting fraudsters where it hurts the most. We are getting tougher and no one will escape justice with a mere slap on the wrists."
This is likely to mean more shocking stories like this hitting the headlines, and more fraudsters being brought to justice.