A BENEFIT cheat who netted £46,000 after wrongly claiming she was single has tearfully thanked a judge for not sending her to prison.

For six years Claire Bostock claimed she was a single mum, pocketing income support and housing benefit when he was living with Jonathan Sykes, the father of her children.

In September last year Bostock appeared before Judge Timothy Stead who told her that, if she could prove she had made proper efforts to repay the money she had taken then she would not go to jail.

And after hearing that the 32-year-old mum-of-three had been making regular repayments out of her benefits the judge sentenced her to six months in prison, suspended for two years.

A tearful Bostock stood in the dock and told him: "I know I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and this is the biggest one. This has made me realise I could have been taken away from my kids.

"I really appreciate the chance you have given me.

"I will never be here again."

Judge Stead told her: "It is gratifying to hear you say that."

Bostock, of Great Holme, Great Lever, had pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining a total of £46,773.58 by failing to notify a change in circumstances to Bolton Council and the DWP.

Julian Goode, prosecuting, told how Bostock's benefit claims for income support in 2010 and housing benefit in 2012 were initially legitimate, but then, in subsequent years continued to claim she was single when she was not and her partner was working for a flooring company.

Investigations showed his employers had Ms Bostock's home as his address.

"The investigations also uncovered Facebook material and there were a number of references which clearly showed the relationship between the defendant and Mr Sykes," said Mr Goode.

Mark Friend, defending, said Bostock, who has no previous convictions, said that over the last five months Bostock has repaid £1,300.

"These efforts are continuing," he said.

As part of her sentence Bostock was electronically tagged and made subject to a 9pm to 6am curfew for 90 days and must participate in 26 days of rehabilitation activities.