Disability benefit cheat was filmed climbing stairs, court hears

A benefit cheat who falsely claimed £51,867 after telling the authorities he could barely walk was filmed climbing flights of stairs at work, a judge heard.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 10th May 2018, 5:12 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th May 2018, 5:16 pm
Court news
Court news

Forklift driver Neil Sheppard - who walked into court - had previously pleaded guilty to falsely claiming Disability Living Allowance between 2001 and 2016 by failing to say he had returned to work.

As part of his claim, Sheppard declared he was virtually unable to walk, and needed assistance to prepare and cook meals.

He then failed to declare a change of circumstances to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), for the same period.

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A judge handed him a nine-month sentence, suspended for 12 months, on Thursday.

Investigators had found Sheppard, who has multiple sclerosis - and suffered a partial amputation of his left arm after an industrial accident, had been working since 1995 as a forklift driver.

CCTV recovered from his workplace at Mondelez International, Minworth, in Birmingham, showed Sheppard walking through a staff recreation room, standing unaided and climbing a flight of stairs with ease.

Prosecution barrister Rachel Pennington said: "Listed on his self-assessment claim form to the DWP, he was claiming restricted mobility and help with care needs; that it took him 20 minutes to walk 100 metres, used a walking stick and would lose his balance."

The court was told the 54-year-old, from Severn Drive, Burntwood, Staffordshire, was able to attend regular meetings in the staff canteen, which was up two flights of stairs - in a building without a lift.

Sentencing at Stafford Crown Court, Judge John Gosling said: "It's always serious to cheat the state out of benefits, as it affects the entire welfare system.

"But each case has to be considered on its own merits."

He added Sheppard was of "previous good character", was valued by his employer, and said his medical condition had "recently deteriorated".

The judge said: "The pre-sentence report tells me he simply failed to understand the importance of changes (in condition) - I think there's something in that. I don't think this is a concerted and protracted fraud."

He added it was "entirely unsatisfactory" that it had also taken two years to bring the prosecution against Sheppard.

Following sentencing, Sheppard accompanied by his wife Jo, told waiting reporters he was "sorry" and "embarrassed" and said the money would be repaid, but bemoaned the "complexity" of the system.

He said: "My condition fluctuates that much anyway, am I supposed to be on the phone every five minutes - 'I've improved today' and they say 'sorry, not today'."

Mrs Sheppard said: "It's never going to change that he's got MS, it's never going to change that he's cognitive problems, that he's got depression, that his arm will get better."

The couple added they would now probably have to sell their home to pay the cash back.

Afterwards, the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like this show how we are catching those who cheat the system and divert taxpayers' money from the people who need it.

"We are determined to catch those we suspect of fraudulently claiming benefits by following up on tip-offs, undertaking surveillance and working with local councils."