A young woman went on a marathon shopping spree hours after a bungling council accidentally credited her bank account with £52,000, a court heard yesterday.
Michaela Hutchings, 23, spent £9,000 on expensive designer clothes, sunglasses and other items after finding the money in her account.
Instead of reporting the error, she also gave her mother Elaine £1,000 in cash, before she was caught by police on April 24 last year.
After she was caught, officers discovered she had transferred £40,000 into an investment account after taking advice from her bank, which was unaware of the mistake.
The mother of one was found guilty of dishonesty and retaining a wrongly credited bank transfer when she appeared at Stafford Crown Court on Monday. Recorder Derek Desmond told her: ‘A little over £52,000 was put into your account in error.
That had nothing to do with you. You didn’t cause that error, but you decided to keep it.’
He added that Hutchings, from Lichfield, Staffordshire, was encouraged to spend the money by her boyfriend at the time.
He said: ‘I have no doubt you were influenced by your partner ? he wanted to spend the money. You went on a spending spree and between you, you spent £9,000. This man who spurred you on is no longer in your life ? no doubt your family will be glad about that.’
Hutchings, who is believed to be a single stay-at-home mother, was given a 12-month community order and told to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work. The court heard an administrative error meant Lichfield District Council accidentally transferred £52,000 into her account instead of paying Bromford Housing Association.
The council managed to stop a further £44,500 being transferred into her account and desperately tried to trace her to explain the error.
But by the time they caught Hutchings, she had spent more than £9,000 during a shopping spree at Birmingham’s Bull- ring centre.
The court heard that she and her partner bought designer shoes, jeans, sunglasses and other luxuries.
Hutchings, the mother of a young daughter, will face a further investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act relating to the £40,000 she transferred into an investment account. Phillip Bradley, defending, said she admitted to a ‘fleeting moment of pleasure’ in spending the money.
He added: ‘However, in her mind she was aware this situation would end badly. This was a woman who had shown no sign of dishonesty in her life.’
Hutchings, who posted a series of glamorous images of herself on social media websites, left the court in tears after being told she would not be jailed. Lichfield councillor Christopher Spruce said after the hearing: ‘Last April, due to a contractor’s clerical error, £52,000 was transferred to a benefits
claimant, rather than to one of our housing association partners.
‘We are working with the police to recover the wrongly transferred funds.
‘We are also working closely with our partners to put additional checks into our systems to ensure a similar payment error cannot happen again in the future.’