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24/12/01
Breeder claimed benefits

BREEDER ANGELA Hughes (Ruff'n'Tuff) claimed that she needed income support, housing benefit and Council Tax relief.

But officials discovered she was selling dogs at 400 a pup while she was illegally claiming 26,898.38 in benefits.

Hughes admitted six charges to Reading magistrates two weeks ago and will be sentenced next month, with the possibility that she will be jailed.

Paul Cooper, prosecuting for West Berkshire District Council, told the court that Hughes had claimed she received no income and lived alone with her three children when she applied for the three benefits.

In March 2000 the council was tipped off that a friend, had moved in and they started investigating whether her benefits should be adjusted.

She repeated she received no income but "this turned out to be untruthful .. a lie", Mr Cooper said. "The investigator considered she had a lifestyle that was not in keeping with someone on income support. "A Land Rover Discovery with a personalised licence plate was outside her house and the investigator noticed trophies and photos from dog shows".

That led to inquiries with the Kennel Club Registration Department to find that Hughes had registered almost 200 dogs. A pet insurance scheme also said the company had registered 235 puppies with it.

Hughes, living in Omer's Rise, Burghfield Common, continued to deny she had received any extra income when interviewed by investigators in October last year, saying she had been breeding for five years as a hobby.

The council could not say how many dogs Hughes had sold or given away, but it wrote randomly to various owners on the register and received 10 replies that they had been bought for between 375 and 455.

Graham Logan, defending, said breeding dogs had started as a hobby but could still only be considered as an "amateur business". Mr Logan replied the vehicle was Mrs Hurst's but was in the defendant's name to get insurance.

He said Hughes had paid around 1,500 back of the Council Tax benefits but would have been eligible to some money even though she was self-employed and this was still being calculated.

Overpaid

Mr Cooper had said although that was true, the council still considered the full amount had been overpaid because Hughes had never taken up the offer during the investigation to supply her accounts and would have if she was entitled to any benefits.

Mr Logan told magistrates he believed they had enough powers to sentence Hughes. They have ordered pre-sentence reports but told Hughes she may still be dealt with at Reading Crown Court and a jail term was a possibility.