A Stradbroke couple who dishonestly claimed more than £35,000 in benefits over a four-year period have walked free from court after being given suspended prison sentences.

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Darren Ward claimed benefits in 2007 as a single parent for a privately rented property near Chelmsford while he was living in France and his children were attending a French school.

Meanwhile his wife Susan, who worked for HM Treasury in London, was living in the rented house at Stock and was travelling to France to join them at weekends, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

When Darren Ward returned to the UK in 2009 the whole family moved to privately rented accommodation in Stradbroke. He continued to say he was a single parent but his wife was living with him and still working at HM Treasury, said Alison Lambert, prosecuting.

Officers became suspicious when the letting agents for the property in Stradbroke wrote to Mid Suffolk District Council to inform them that the new tenants were a Mr and Mrs Ward. It was then that the tenancy agreement supplied by Darren Ward was found to be false.

Darren Ward, 42, of Kersley Hall Lane, Stradbroke, admitted six offences of fraud and two offences of counterfeiting and forgery and was given a 10-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work.

Susan Ward, 49, of the same address, admitted four offences of fraud and was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to do 100 hours unpaid work.

Jonathan Goodman, for the couple, said they had moved to France as a temporary measure after Darren Ward suffered a breakdown and had to stop work.

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