A former senior Tory councillor who pretended to be a qualified barrister to gain social status and well paid jobs wept in court today as she avoided jail.
Monika Juneja, 36, rose to become deputy leader of the Conservative group at Guildford Borough Council while repeatedly lying about her degree and law qualifications to get ahead.
But her ambitions in local politics ultimately led to her downfall when constituents living in green belt areas investigated her background as they opposed her work identifying areas of land for development.
In May, Juneja, of Doverfield Road, Guildford, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to three counts of forgery dating back to 2000, obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception, and a charge of "wilfully pretending to be a barrister" between January 2010 and May last year.
Today, judge Gerald Gordon sentenced her to 14 months imprisonment suspended for two years and ordered her to complete 200 hours of community service.
He told her: "For a period of some 14 years you have lived a lie about your qualifications and your professional status.
"You said it started as a result of parental pressure. There is likely to be an element of that but I am satisfied you yourself wanted the status and the prospect of success and advancement that it would bring.
"It was status rather than financial gain that lies at the heart of what you did although there clearly must have been financial gain.
"You did not actually try to practice at the bar or claim to anyone you had completed a pupillage. Instead you used the ongoing pretence to enhance your standing in the workplace, and as far as status is concerned, to enhance your standing in the community, and it was that standing that ultimately led to your downfall."
At an earlier hearing, prosecutor Kate Wilkinson outlined the catalogue of lies and pretence dating back to her university years.
In 1997, Juneja began a degree in sociology and law at Greenwich University, switching midway to just sociology, for which she received a third-class degree.
She then set her sights on a bar course but needed at least a second-class degree to be accepted so she forged a letter from the university to get a place at BPP Law School.
After beginning the course in September 2001, Juneja failed three attempts at successfully completing course modules and was declared "not competent" in law in July 2003.
Ms Wilkinson said she forged a document stating she had a 2.1 degree in sociology from Greenwich University, adding: "It is right to say that she is not entitled to call herself a barrister in any sense."
She went on to forge at least one document from BPP Law School, stating she received a final assessment of "very competent" in law which, the prosecutor said, was "very far from the truth".
The defendant applied for jobs where the law qualification was a real asset and gave her higher earning potential, Ms Wilkinson said.
In August 2003, she got work at Bromley Council as a licensing support officer earning nearly £20,000 a year before leaving in 2006.
Juneja used that first job as a "springboard" to get more legal work through recruitment agency Law Absolute.
Using her false qualifications, she landed a role as planning officer at Tower Hamlets in November 2007, moving on to the same position with Brighton and Hove Council in March 2009.
The court heard that mistakes made while later pretending to be a barrister in Buckingham and a lawyer at Enfield council could have led to costs of many thousands of pounds.
As a result of the case, at least one council has had to recheck whether any legal errors had been made.
In 2011, she maintained her lie to party officials when she ran for election as a Tory councillor for Guildford Borough Council.
She was arrested in May last year after constituents complained that she had misrepresented herself.
Defending, Howard Godfrey QC said his client had been the victim of a "witch hunt".
He said: "She has by her guilty plea evidenced her remorse and regret. She is a lady of not merely good character but a lady of most outstanding positive good character in terms of the years of public service she has provided.
"She has suffered because, while plainly she has behaved improperly and plainly she has committed a number of criminal offences, she is the victim of a witch hunt in Guildford as a result of planning policy which she was seeking to put forward."
Mr Godfrey said his client was the daughter of Indian immigrants who "expected great things" from her, ensuring she had the best education they could manage.
When she left university with a third-class degree she was "embarrassed" and "panicked" because her "ambitious" parents had hoped she would pursue a professional career.
He added: "The fact of the matter is that, although not qualified as stated, she was very good at her job."