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30 Oct 2018

Benefit fraudster said he was disabled

A 67-year-old man who was paid benefits of nearly £60,000 after claiming he could hardly walk was photographed jogging up a hill, painting while standing on a rooftop - and sitting astride a Harley Davidson motorbike, a court heard.

Secret surveillance of Anthony Pritchard in February last year 'demonstrated far greater capabilities than he claimed', Gloucester Crown Court was told.

Pritchard, from Thrupp, near Stroud, had claimed Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments by stating he was 'virtually unable to walk', said prosecutor Alun Williams.

Pritchard admitted four offences of benefit fraud between August 2006 and April 2017. He had received £59,211.25 more than he was entitled to, Mr Williams told Judge Michael Cullum.

The prosecutor said two of Pritchard's offences related to him failed to notify the Department of Work and Pensions that he was receiving rental income from his property. He received income support and pension credit without revealing that income.

But the 'particularly serious' offences he committed related to him failing to notify the DWP that his 'capabilities had improved and his care needs reduced', Mr Williams said.

Pritchard made the claim for DLA on the basis that he was 'virtually unable to walk' but covert surveillance between February 16 and 28, 2017 'demonstrated far greater capabilities than he claimed', said the prosecutor.

Mr Williams said he was seen 'jogging' to his car up and down a slope of 80 metres, 'unaided, without pain or imbalance'.

Pritchard was also observed 'walking at pace, albeit with a slight limp' and 'visiting B&Q and parking 50 metres from the entrance, ignoring the disabled bay'.

“Finally he was also witnessed on June 11, 2017 at the Gloucester Motor Show, walking along unaided with no assistance,” the prosecutor said. “There is a slight limp but no walking aids.”

Those investigations led the department to request a police search warrant of his address.

“No bedding was found downstairs,” Mr Williams said. “And the garden was neat and tidy.”

The barrister said: “There was photographic evidence of a very full lifestyle. Capabilities far greater than he declared.”

He referred to photos of a 'new motorhome' with bikes mounted on a rear rack, sightseeing trips to the Olympic games in 2012, and of Pritchard on the roof of his extension project getting involved in the painting.

“This was confirmed on his Facebook account,” Mr Williams said. “He is stood on a step ladder with paint roller in his hand.”

The court heard there was a picture from 2013 of him 'sat astride a Harley Davidson, and he had been the registered keeper of a Ducati motorcycle since 2009.

There were also other vehicles that Mr Williams referred to - an MG Coupe, a Ford Motorcaravan, a Vauxhall Combi Van and a Jaguar XK8 convertible.

The barrister said that Pritchard became the registered keeper of a Harley Davidson in 2012, and through MOT checks the investigators established it had covered 4,000 miles between that year and 2017.

“There were also five insurance policies recorded on that motorcycle,” Mr Williams said. “That is at odds with what he claimed of his abilities.”

Mr Williams turned to the fourth count on the indictment relating to PIP, and said: “He phoned the department of work and pensions in December 2016. He verbally answered questions and completed a form subsequently. He said he needed help preparing food, washing bathing, dressing and had other incapacities”

Judge Cullum said that could be interpreted as “dishonest from the start as it does not start until 2016. A dishonest action on that date.”

The court heard that in interview following his arrest Pritchard' maintained his stance, until confronted with evidence.'

Mr Williams said “But then he was obfuscating and sarcastic - challenging the prosecution to prove it.”

Mr Williams said that Pritchard had six previous convictions for fifteen offences, but the most recent was 2007 and 'they must be regarded as spent'.

The prosecutor concluded by saying: “If not a lavish lifestyle, it included a great deal of material wealth, the motorhomes, the sports cars and the motorcycles. We ask that the court proceeds under the proceed of crime act.”

Sarah Jenkins, representing Pritchard said: “He has suffered from a number of different health complaints.”

She said he struggled with anxiety and being in crowded spaces. The trips to the Olympic games were with a partner who 'helps him tolerate situations he could not do on his own'.

“There were periods of time when it seemed to be worse and periods when better,” the lawyer said. “If there was a day when he felt well in the morning he would try and do jobs around the house. When it happened it would only be for a short period of time. If he pushed past that, his condition would feel much worse.

“If he was having a good day, anxiety under control, feeling well, he would take advantage of that.

“There was a definite pattern of health being up and down. Since the investigation begun, there has been a continuing decline in is health. He cannot walk unaided at the moment,” the lawyer said.

She also told the judge that Pritchard was under the care of two specialists due to his present health problems.

“I would ask Your Honour to consider that at 67 with a relatively lengthy period since any offences committed he is not a man that needs to receive an immediate custodial sentence,” she argued. “It could be reflected by a period of custody that is suspended.”

Mrs Jenkins said that as a result of the proceeds of crime procedures, his assets would be liquidised and he faced losing his home.

Probably liquidated. Liquidised seems a new but spectacular penalty.

“He is going to be punished for these offences. The DWP are going to recover that money from him. He owns his own home. That is his life's work. The reality is that will be recovered from him. He does not lead a lavish lifestyle.”

Imposing a suspended jail term, Judge Cullum said: “You are now in decreasing health, and have had matters of ill health for some time. But it certainly did not stop you when you were covertly observed, jogging, walking unaided, and going to B&Q, all in 2017.”

The judge noted that now: “You clearly present as someone who would be wholly incapable of that, but your condition now is of less importance.”

He ruled: “Your disability was very significantly different from what you were portraying. That is the seriousness of this case. You were simply not being honest with the authorities, exaggerating and to be honest and lying.”

The judge told Pritchard by doing this he was doing 'a huge number of people a disservice'.

“Firstly those people who are so often criticised for administering these [benefit assessment] procedures and secondly those who a struggling and striving for these benefits. You take money out of the pot for those that are properly deserving.

“I have to consider stark choice of suspending or not. Bearing in mind all I have read about you, I am satisfied that the balance does mean that this can be a sentence that is suspended. It is to be hoped that every penny will be retrieved from you.”

The judge imposed a nine month jail term suspended for 12 months and fixed a proceeds of crime hearing for March 4 next year.

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