13 Mar 2015

Tip-off sends benefits thief to jail

A benefits cheat who fiddled £26,000 by saying he was too handicapped to walk has been jailed for six months - after being filmed playing in golf tournaments.

Golfer Alan Bannister, who played off a handicap of seven, was convicted of benefits fraud after being caught on camera happily walking around the course on his daily game.

He even had taxpayer-funded mobility car by claiming he was in too much pain to walk. But a court heard he was was in fact the "club champion" at his local golf course and had won a number of tournaments.

Bannister, aged 56, was investigated by the Department of Work and Pensions who filmed him completing a 5,400 yard course in just four and a half hours.

They discovered he used his mobility car, intended for people "virtually unable to walk", to drive to the golf club to play with the "Sunday Swingers" and "The Crazy Gang" players despite claiming he could barely walk 50 yards at a time.

Judge Recorder David Miller said: "It was a blatant fraud. You grossly and dishonestly distorted your condition and your ability to walk. You said you could only walk 50 metres but you were an active member of your golf club with a handicap of seven."

He said Bannister was club champion in 2006 and also won competitions "almost on annual basis" even when claiming benefits.

He said: "You were filmed effortlessly removing your golf trolley and clubs from your car and walking at a decent pace at the golf course. At time of national austerity, claiming benefits you are not entitled to is very serious. This benefit is for people virtually unable to walk."

Prosecutor Stuart McLeese said: "Bannister made dishonest representations about the extent of his disabilities and needs and failed to notify the DWP about what his true care and mobility needs were. He didn't accurately record the effect his condition had on him and then didn't notify the DWP at any time that his abilities were greater than he indicated in those claim forms."

Bannister started claiming Disability Living Allowance in 2007 saying he had a form of arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis.

He filled in forms saying he needed help raising his arms, putting on his shirt and shoes and carrying saucepans.

Bannister said he could only walk 50 yards before experiencing "severe discomfort" and it would take him 10 to 15 minutes to cover this distance.

Cardiff Crown Court heard how he also needed help making a meal or getting dressed.

But an anonymous tipster called the DWP to tell that how Bannister was a keen golfer - who had played in five-day-long competitions.

He was filmed in 2012 driving in his mobility car to St Andrews Major golf club near his home in Barry, South Wales, and completing the 5,400 yard course in just four and a half hours. Covert officers filmed him happily walking to the first tee with his clubs on a trolley and then teeing off before walking 400 yards down the fairway without a problem.

In interview with Department of Work and Pensions officers, Bannister admitted knowing that he should tell them if there was any improvement in his arthritis: "I have to do something if I am not working - I can't sit in the house and melt away. I have got to get out there and get on with my life. I have to be up two or three hours before I can play golf. My illness if there all the time. I never ever thought I wasn't entitled."

A DWP officer told Bannister: "The fact you are getting on and fighting your illness is admirable but it doesn't mean the state has to pay for it."

In interview Bannister said he still suffered "flare ups" around six times a month and had to take strong medication in order to play golf.

The court was told Bannister dishonestly claimed £26,090.55 from 2007 until 2012 in Disability Living Allowance.

Bannister denied committing fraud by false representation and dishonestly obtaining money transfers by deception but was found guilty by a jury after a four-day trial.


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