9 Dec 2010

Big bopper was benefits thief

This case shows the nature of the enforcement problem. The guy self certified, but the DWP had to do detective work to get the conviction. With relatively few investigators to check up on huge numbers of claimants, enforcement is bound to be patchy.

A twenty stone conman who told benefit bosses he was "virtually unable to walk" starred in a tribute act to The Big Bopper.

Martyn Gillie also worked as a tour guide while unlawfully claiming more than £19,000 of disability payments over a nine-year period.

But undercover investigators caught the 52-year-old out as he belted out hits like Chantilly Lace to packed theatre audiences.

A court heard how Gillie appeared on stage as the 50s US singer on "several" occasions including in productions of Rave On — A Tribute to Buddy Holly.

And video surveillance taken by the DWP showed the 6ft 4in roly-poly rocker at a Big Bopper tribute evening.

Gillie, of Matlock, Derbys, pleaded guilty to two charges of falsely claiming benefits.

He was given a four-month suspended prison sentence at Derby Crown Court and told to do 100 hours of unpaid work.

Sentencing him, Judge David Pugsley said his claims that he was unable to walk and partially blind were "despicable".

The court heard how Gillie first claimed Disability Living Allowance in April 1996 by filling in a self-assessment form.

He was awarded the mobility component of the allowance — for those who cannot walk, find it very hard to walk or need help getting around — at the highest rate available.

Prosecutor Balvinder Bhatti said he had stated he was virtually unable to walk, suffered from osteoarthritis — a disease of the joints — and was partially sighted.

She said notices were sent out annually asking people to notify the Government if there were any changes to a person's circumstances.

But the court heard how, from September 2000, Gillie was employed by the Arkwright Society to give visitors tours of Cromford Mill and its exhibition centre and Lumsdale Valley, close to Matlock.

Peter Whiteley from the DWP told the court that although Gillie first started claiming 14 years ago, there was only evidence of dishonesty from 2000.

He said: "There were several performances of the Big Bopper tribute act. Most of them were local but we think some were further afield."

Jiles Perry Richardson Jnr aka The Big Bopper enjoyed a brief spell of stardom before his death in a plane crash on a snowy night in Iowa that also claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in February 1959.

Nicola Hunter, in mitigation, said Gillie did have "significant mobility problems" and found it difficult to walk without severe discomfort.

She said he had always had problems with his eyesight but had pushed himself into work to support his wife and three daughters.

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