''What would YOU do?'' asks mum who splashed the cash £9000 To Be Exact after council mistakenly paid £52,000 into her account

Until a year ago, middle-class mum Michaela Hutchings was known as a devoted young mum, who drilled into her daughter the importance of right and wrong. But one reckless decision turned her life upside down and landed her at the centre of a nationwide moral dilemma – what do you do if tens of thousands of pounds appear from nowhere in your bank account?Finding herself in just that situation, Michaela splashed the surprise cash on designer clothes and shoes then banked the rest. Her conviction last week for dishonesty and keeping money that wasn’t hers has divided Britain – between those who congratulated her on social media for “looking after number one”, and others who found her actions morally repugnant. Last night Michaela, 23, told for the first time of her guilt and shame after she splurged £9,000 of the £52,000 mistakenly put into her account by Lichfield District Council. “I’m so ashamed,” she said. “But I have to ask everyone – what would you do?” A bright, popular girl Michaela did well at school and excelled as an amateur horse rider. When she left college, she joined the family business and continued to work hard after becoming a single mum to a little girl.
But Michaela’s dishonesty last April left her open to prosecution as well as hounding by internet trolls and harsh judgment from her local community. Critics took to Facebook and Twitter to criticise her, some posting vile racist comments about her mixed-race two-year-old after her appearance at Stafford Crown Court. But she broke down last night telling of her regret. She said: “All of this is my fault and I feel so sorry. I put my family in a position where they are being looked down on by everyone. “How am I going to explain to my daughter in the future if she Googles my name and finds what I’ve done?” It’s an ethical quandary that has had the country debating all week. Michaela told of the fateful day when she found the cash in her account. “I went to the shop to buy a pint of milk one Tuesday and I was just a normal girl. “Then when I went to the cashpoint to take out some money I checked my balance and ­ everything changed. There was over £50,000 in there. I didn’t know what to do. Who would?” When she went into her bank Michaela claims the cashier couldn’t tell her where the deposit had come from and she insists had she known it was from the council, she wouldn’t have touched it. She claims that her ex-partner, who is currently in custody awaiting trial for drug-related offences, encouraged her to keep the money. “He said, ‘Don’t tell anyone’, so I didn’t. But also, part of me liked the idea that I suddenly had all that money. I was a single mum – money isn’t always easy. But this was not how I was brought up. “Of course I take responsibility, but there was definitely an influence from my boyfriend. I wish I’d been stronger.” She was arrested the day after her £9,000 spending spree at Birmingham’s Bull Ring shopping centre after police raided her home in Lichfield, Staffordshire. The £40,000 she put into a savings account remains untouched and she has signed forms for police to release the funds back to the council. Her crime of dishonestly retaining wrongful credit carries a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. She was spared jail after admitting the offences. Instead she was given a 12-month community order and was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work. But she claims she has since had an unfair deal from members of the public who have branded her a scrounger. “I have never been out of work,” she said. “I know it’s my fault that everyone around me is suffering, and that is so hard. Just one bad decision can change your life. “I did wrong and I’m sorry but before you judge me put yourself in my shoes.”
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Write by: Dj Donk - Saturday, April 5, 2014

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