5 Nov 2014

Teacher in £13.8k benefit fraud gets £440 fine

What a case. She now says she lied about being cured. Her doctor must be fascinated.

A primary school teacher has been ordered to pay back almost £14,000 in disability benefits after she was caught boasting about her 'miracle' recovery on YouTube. (h/t a reader)

Kelly Hopton, 35, of Rugeley, Staffordshire, was granted state handouts in October 2008 on the basis she was so restricted by a back injury she needed help brushing her teeth. She said she had difficulty bending and stretching, had to be accompanied when outdoors and used crutches to get about.

But a court heard officials from the DWP launched an investigation last year after receiving a tip-off. They found a Youtube clip where Hopton revealed her life had been transformed by surgery and bragged 'I never thought I'd walk again but now I'm walking on sunshine.'

Hopton appears smiling at the camera in the seven-minute long video - which was posted on June 2011 by spinal surgeon Manoj Krishna. Asked how far she can walk after the surgery, she replied: 'As far as you want me to.' She then goes on to say: 'I went into the hospital in a wheelchair and nine days afterwards I walked out and feel like a new woman.'

Investigators also secretly filmed Hopton carrying bags of shopping, bending and stretching while on three trips to supermarkets in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

Burton Magistrates Court heard the DWP did not dispute that she had a medical complaint or had been previously entitled to benefits. But the Government department said her capabilities had been significantly improved by her 'miraculous' March 2011 operation.

Hopton pleaded not guilty to failing to report a change in circumstances in a fraud that involved pocketing £13,866 of taxpayers cash between June 2011 and November 2013.

The court was shown secret footage of Hopton loading shopping bags into her car and bending down in the aisle at Tesco and Morrisons in Lichfield. JPs were also shown a YouTube interview and an article in a women's magazine where she bragged about her 'miracle' recovery next to a photo captioned 'delighted to be back on my feet'. In the Youtube footage, the smiling teacher says: 'It's a miracle, a definite miracle. I wasn't Kelly before, I am Kelly now. After my surgery, within a week Mr Krishna got me off all medication, all the morphine, which was another miracle. With Mr Krishna's help, my job is now still mine. He assured the school that by August I'm going to be fit as a fiddle. Before the surgery I was in a wheelchair, I couldn't walk. I was bed-ridden, I had to have a catheter in because I couldn't get to the toilet. I had no quality of life. I have a young daughter and the guilt of not being able to look after her was immense, just a very very dark time.'

In the YouTube video, Hopton says at her most medicated time she was on 50 tablets a day and drank from a bottle of liquid morphine to cope with her back pain.

In an interview with 'My Weekly' magazine, Hopton described how she first underwent surgery after suffering back pain in 2008. In the interview Hopton explained how specialist Mr Krishna diagnosed her with prolapsed discs in her spinal cord after just 20 minutes. She then had titanium discs and rods inserted into her spine in a six-hour operation in March 2011 and told the magazine that when she woke up 'the pain had gone'.

She said: 'As I got used to walking again, I put 'Walking on Sunshine' on my iPod. The lyrics were so happy and inspiring. Jason (my husband) and I often talk about the little things I took for granted that I could no longer do - chasing Olivia (daughter) in the garden, saying goodnight to her in her bed - even brushing my teeth. Now, every pain-free moment is sacred. I used to think I'd never walk again, Now, I'm walking on sunshine.'

Hopton told the court she had lied in the video and magazine article - claiming she had been told what to say by other people. But she maintained that her lies had been told about the miracle recovery and not to continue receiving benefits illegally. Hopton also told JPs she was still in pain and had been entitled to claim the payouts.

After the case, a spokesperson for the DWP 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. It is unfair that some people get support when they do not have a disability, while many people depend on the benefits system to provide a safety net. Deliberately not informing us of a change in your condition that may affect your claim is a crime. Don't wait for our fraud investigators to find you. Tell us of a change now.'
Magistrates convicted Hopton and fined her £440 with £100 costs and a £75 victim surcharge. She was also ordered to pay back the £13,866 in disability benefits she had dishonestly claimed.

Where's the deterrent effect here? An administrative penalty would have been much steeper. And she didn't even plead guilty - despite the evidence.

Video and pictures 


Anonymous said...

What I find difficult to stomach is the fact that a lot of hard work is carried out during the investigation of these fraudsters.

Take a team of, say, 3. Work out the cost of their salaries, pensions and NIC, car and related expenses for sometimes months of investigatory work for just ONE "claimant".

This additional cost should also be claimed.

John Page said...

This is a big reason why officials will never get on top of benefit fraud. And with sentences like this, some people will think the low risk of detection is a risk well worth taking.

Though in this case I trust she will lose her job.