A JUDGE issued a chilling warning to benefits cheats as he jailed a grandmother for more than two years for sponging £75,000 from taxpayers.

Andrea Blakeburn repeatedly told officials from the council and the Department for Work and Pensions that she lived alone with her children.

The seven-year con was uncovered when officials found a man hiding under the bed-covers in the Darlington home of the supposed single mum.

Blakeburn's partner Ronald Thomas was beneath the duvet when investigators looked around her home in Pateley Moor Crescent in January last year.

The 46-year-old's lies helped her rake in thousands of pounds a year in Council Tax relief and housing benefit from Darlington Borough Council.

Teesside Crown Court heard that she also got thousands of pounds in Employment Support Allowance, Income Support and JobSeekers Allowance.

Her lawyer, James Fenny, argued that she had not lived an extravagant lifestyle on the money and used it simply to feed and clothe her children.

But Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, told the shamed mother-of-three: “There are many people in your position, struggling to make ends meet.

“The message has got to come from this court that whatever the mitigation, people who carry out benefit fraud to this extent will go to prison.”

Mr Fenny told the court that Blakeburn would struggle to cope in jail and that her son, daughters and two grandchildren would also suffer.

She had endured an ordeal in the community after The Northern Echo revealed her fraud when she pleaded guilty last month, said Mr Fenney.

Locking up Blakeburn for two years and four months, Judge Bourne-Arton described the cheating as “persistent, deliberate and determined”.

He said: “People who carry out deceptions to get benefits to which they are not entitled can come from a number of different backgrounds.

“Many, like you, are otherwise decent people, not well-off, struggling, but a number of those who are struggling to bring up children don't cheat.

“Every bit of money you got came from people who pay their taxes, many struggling to do so. It is the public who are the sufferers. It is their money.”

Blakeburn admitted ten charges of making false statements and two counts of failing to notify a change in circumstances between 2003 and 2010.

Mr Fenny said: “Clearly it is not right, and she admits her guilt. She has suffered quite a lot already. She is frightened of going to prison.

“There has been no lavish lifestyle here. The money has been spent on children – on their shoes, clothing and food – and not holidays and cars.”