'My £50k inheritance was not for me... it was for my cats'
AN animal lover accused of illegally claiming £22,000 in benefits after receiving a big inheritance says the bequest was not hers – it belonged to her late mother's cats.
Marlene Howes, 67, is alleged to have concealed the inheritance from her mother Barbara Sutton so that she could continue claiming and receiving pension credfits.
But Howes, of Parkhill, Whitecroft, near Lydney, insists that her mother left her the money in trust for the benefit of her 14 Persian cats and not for herself.
The cats had always had the best of everything and her mother wanted that to continue after her death, she told Stroud magistrates.
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"She wanted the money from the sale of her property to go to looking after her animals," Howes said.
"I agreed to take all her cats and take care of them on those conditions. She expressed it verbally to me but she did not put it in writing in her will."
Howes said she had adopted all her mother's cats and brought them to live with her own 25 Persian cats.
She told the court she had received £136,000 from the sale of her late mother's house in Bristol in 2005. But almost half of that had to be given to the son of her mother's partner, who was also a beneficiary.
She then opened her "Cats Account" and paid in £50,000 to be used for the benefit of her mother's pets.
It had never occurred to her to notify the Department of Work and Pensions or Forest of Dean District Council of the inheritance or her capital assets, she told the court.
"It wasn't my money, it was the cats'," said Howes, who denies four charges of making false statements or concealing her true capital to obtain £22,000 in benefits between 2005 and Oct last year.
She claimed that in 2005 when she knew the money was being left to her, she rang Forest Council and asked if she needed to declare it but was told she did not.
Asked by her solicitor Jon Holmes what the cost of keeping the cats was, she said: "It was a lot of money. My mother always paid for the best food and so on. She would go daily to the supermarket or butcher and get them fresh food every day.
"At one time it was costing £180 a week – and then there's cat litter on top of that."
She also had "horrendous" vets' bills to pay – around £30,000 in seven years.
Howes told the court: "I didn't regard it as my money at all. It was left by my mother specifically for the keeping of the animals. Everyone knows she absolutely adored those animals. I realise that it is me who is named on her will but I never gave that a thought, I just thought a dead person's wishes should be carried out.
"I was executor and trustee of my mother's estate and I regarded myself as carrying out her instructions."
Cross-examined by prosecutor Tim Burrows, she agreed that she had been selling pedigree Persian kittens for £400-450 each without declaring that income to the authorities either. She said that was because all the money she received for kittens went back into paying veterinary costs.
The trial was adjourned until October 9 for full details of Howes' bank accounts to be obtained.