A SCROUNGER who forged her own marriage certificate as part of a £46,000 benefits scam has avoided jail.

Mother-of-four Lesley Cross, aged 38, of St George’s Close, Moreton, carried on her frauds against the state for five years – claiming to be a single mum in need of support even though she was living with a working partner who later became her husband.

When she stopped cheating in 2011 she told the authorities she had just got married – and forged her marriage certificate, which showed she had actually wed in 2009.

Cross admitted failing to notify a change in her circumstances which would affect her entitlement to income support, council tax allowance and housing allowance.

She also admitted five offences of dishonestly making false representations to obtain benefits and one of dishonestly falsifying her marriage certificate to induce Cotswold District Council to accept it as genuine.

Cross also asked for 15 offences of fraudulently claiming social fund loans including maternity payments and winter fuel allowances to be considered.

Shirlie Duckworth, defending, said Cross and her husband were astonished at how much money she had falsely claimed.

But at Gloucester Crown Court on Tuesday, Judge Jamie Tabor sentenced Cross to a nine-month jail term, suspended for two years and told her she was saved from jail by her early guilty plea, previous good character and her troubled mental health.

“You were living the life of a respectable mum with children at school while at the same time you were cheating uphill and down dale and at the end had even created a false marriage certificate,” he said.

He also handed her a 12-month supervision order and ordered her to complete a 16-day activity programme and 200 hours of unpaid work.

CDC leader, Cllr Lynden Stowe, said: “Mrs Cross stole from the public purse and abused a system which helps those in genuine need. We will continue to seek further repayments until the slate is wiped clean.”