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22 Aug 2014

Mayor stole benefits

A town mayor who claimed he could barely walk to claim benefits has been spared jail.

Brian Griffin, 76, was caught on film conning taxpayers out of £13,000 when he was filmed by fraud surveillance teams marching more than a mile on a Remembrance Day parade.

The pensioner had previously denied one count of failing to properly notify the Department of Work and Pensions of a change in circumstances. He was found guilty on July 21 after a two-day trial. Now District Judge Morris Cooper has given him an eight-week jail term, suspended for six months at Nottingham Magistrates' Court. He was also ordered to pay £300 costs. He said Griffin was only saved from time in prison because of his previous good character, age and medical problems.

He added that Griffin - who is still an Eastwood Town councillor - had presented him with a 'paradox' because he had carried out charitable and voluntary work and had never been in trouble before.

Griffin, who was injured in a fall in 1997, first claimed the highest level of disability living allowance in 2003 after suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. But the pensioner failed to tell the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) his health had improved, merely stating on claim forms in 2010 and 2012 that the condition 'varies'. A court heard that between June 3, 2009 and January 29, 2013 he received £13,448.95 in disability living allowance after claiming he could not walk more than 10 metres.

Wayne Wallis, prosecuting, told the hearing that Griffin said his walking was 'limited to 10 metres, his balance and confidence outdoors were a constant problem, and he had to use crutches and a walking stick.'

He was caught out when he was filmed by undercover investigators marching to lay a wreath at a war memorial on Armistice Day in 2012 while he was the mayor of Eastwood, in Nottinghamshire. A court heard that Griffin was fit enough to carry out 130 duties in just one year as mayor. He was also spotted standing for two hours selling poppies at Ikea, helping a friend fix a roof and working on his allotment. Griffin had a season ticket at Nottingham Forest FC in the higher part of a stands' upper tier and was an active member of a bowls club in the town.

Mr Wallis said Griffin's cover was blown when an outraged member of the public anonymously tipped off the DWP.

Cover? What cover? It was all in plain sight.

A fraud investigation team carried out undercover surveillance between September and November 2012 and caught Griffin on video performing tasks he had stated on his claim form he was unable to do.

Mr Wallis said: 'He was seen to walk over 1,800 metres on the Remembrance Day parade while carrying a wreath, and remained on his feet the whole time.'

Griffin, who was mayor of Eastwood twice, in 2010-11 and 2012-13, had claimed DWP investigators caught him 'on a good day' when they filmed him at the procession.

Giving evidence during his trial, he said: 'I was an active member of the community, my injury stopped that. It was a fall down some small steps and I thought I was OK. I try to walk because the doctors told me if I don't I will lose my leg, but I suffer later for it. Remembrance was one of my good days. I made the effort to go and suffered for it later. I have been forced to miss it in the past.'

His benefits were taken away from him when he was reassessed by a doctor last year and he is now repaying the cash.

Jessica Vogel, defending, said: 'He accepts he had carried out all these activities but did say the pain never goes away. He did say he feels ashamed at being 77 and having his first conviction. He made the initial claim on the basis he couldn't walk more than 10 metres. When he filled in the form in 2010 and 2012 he did change the description to 'varies'. He thought that would be sufficient notification but at trial it was found he should have made it more clear. He no longer claims any benefits and as a result of all this he is never likely to again. It is unlikely he will ever be before the court again. He has been paying back the money for some time.'

Speaking after the case, DWP fraud manager Paul Baggaley said: 'It is our duty to ensure that benefit payments go to those who really need them and we are committed to cracking down on those who play the system. Our welfare reforms are vital to close the gaps that cheats take advantage of.'

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