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14 Feb 2020

Unlawful Profit Order for illegal subletting

A council tenant illegally sublet his Walthamstow flat for five years while living in Warrington with his partner and children.

Oluwajare Adegbuyi was caught illegally subletting the flat in Stocksfield Road following a Waltham Forest council anti-fraud team investigation in partnership with Warrington Borough Council.

Officers discovered the occupier of the Stocksfield Road property was not the rightful tenant; Adegbuyi found to also be registered as the tenant of a council property in Warrington.

At Thames Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, January 23, the defendant claimed he had moved to Warrington to be with his partner and their two children.

He said he had let his aunt live in the flat, and then subsequently let it to other tenants because he was not sure if he would return and did not wish to give up his council property.

Adegbuyi pled guilty to dishonestly sub-letting and the judge imposed an unlawful profit order, compelling him to pay back money he received from subletting the property.

He was fined £130 and ordered to pay back £846. Waltham Forest Council was also awarded full legal costs – Adegbuyi will have to pay in excess of £2,500 in total.

The property has since been returned to the council and made available to house an individual previously on the waiting list.

Cllr Louise Mitchell, cabinet member for housing and homelessness prevention, said: “Illegal subletting is not a victimless crime. It denies homes to people and families who are in genuine need of them. We will always push for the highest penalties in instances of fraud, although the courts will make the final decision.

“This is an excellent example of our housing officers and anti-fraud team working together to ensure the people who live in our properties are the rightful and legal tenants.”

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13 Feb 2020

Judge attacks lax monitoring of fraudulent benefits scheme

A benefit fraud scam in which women pretended to be cleaners at schools cost the taxpayer almost £1m, a court heard.

Ringleaders Mohamed Goth, 66, and Feisal Aw-Isse Sadi, 43, have been jailed for eight and five years in their absence respectively after fleeing the country.

And 21 women from Manchester's Somalian community were also in the dock, following five crown court trials and a prosecution which a judge estimated may have cost another £1m in lawyers' and translators' fees, as well as court time.

Manchester Crown Court heard that the women were employed as 'cleaners' at two schools set up on Claremont Road, in Rusholme.

Goth and Sadi were directors of Iftiin Educational and Skills Centre Ltd, set up in a converted terraced house, and Hilaal Child Care, also known as Sherwood Education and Training Centre, established in a former pub.

Up to 20 'cleaners' were employed at both sites, in a staff size which Judge Anthony Cross QC said would have been more fitting for Manchester town hall, rather than businesses in a 'two up two down' properties.

He said: "This was a cleaning staff that would probably equate to that employed at the town hall here in Manchester, yet no one until the fraud was rumbled seemed to have noticed this remarkable fact."

Despite this, environmental health staff were called out separately after there was found to be a 'pest infestation' in a kitchen area.

The judge said the officers found 'few if any cleaning materials'.

Instead of cleaning, the women would sit in a room waiting for their children to finish the lessons, where English, maths and science were taught by 'well meaning' but inexperienced young people, often just out of university.

The women would sometimes 'tidy up a little litter' or 'occasionally mop up a spillage', the court heard.

The scam allowed Goth and Sadi to generate tax credit and benefit claims, so that the pair could obtain 'wholly unrealistic' payments to their companies to the tune of about £870,000.

By finding this 'work', this meant that the women could move from claiming job seeker's allowance to working tax credits, and would make them entitled to other benefits including housing and council tax benefit.

By moving onto different benefits the women did not have to attend meetings or appointments associated with job seeker's allowance, the judge said.

"The real purpose was so that the conspiracy could trigger the entitlement to working tax credit," the judge said.

Over many months, the women claimed more benefits than they were entitled to, with some receiving more than £20,000.

Judge Cross said: "The allegation then and now was that approximately £1m of public funds had been defrauded. It would not be surprising if the conduct of Goth, Sadi and these women and the other defendants have cost the public in excess of £2m.

"These defendants lived in an area in which there is considerable deprivation, where over time public services have been eroded. It is simplistic to apply simple arithmetic to this complex problem, but what good might have been done with the money wasted by these women, by those in their community who are in need?

"My concern is that this fraud was so blatant and organised that others of its type are in existence in Manchester."

The judge called for an urgent investigation to be conducted by the authorities to establish whether there are similar frauds taking place currently.

He also raised concerns at an apparent lack of background checks on the teachers who worked at the school.

"It is difficult to understand how any inspector concerned who had the interests of children as their paramount consideration could give approval to this place as an educational establishment," the judge said. "It also defies belief that it was considered safe to let young children into these premises."

The fraud was uncovered by the Department for Work and Pensions after a 'random computer check'.

Goth, formerly of Howcroft Street, Bolton, now thought to be in Somalia, and Sadi, formerly of Dunworth Street, Rusholme, whose whereabouts are not known, were convicted of conspiracy to defraud and both received jail terms which will start if and when they are arrested.

All 21 women appeared in court for sentence on Tuesday afternoon.

The majority of the defendants had to sit in the area of court usually reserved for juries as the dock was already full.

All of the women, who live within Manchester's Somalian community, were spared jail and ordered to carry out unpaid work.

"This fraud must have been well known to those who frequented this place," the judge said. "I have no doubt that each woman believed that she was on to a good thing and was happy to let it continue."

The judge warned the women: "If you don't do the work, you will go to jail."

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3 Feb 2020

North East campaign highlights the cost of housing fraud

The financial and social impact of housing fraud will come under the spotlight as part of a regional awareness campaign.

Housing fraud is the third biggest type of fraud affecting councils in the UK, costing local authorities £135.6m in 2018/2019. It can also contribute to problems such as anti-social behaviour and vandalism within communities.

The North East Tenancy Fraud Forum will lead a social media campaign to raise awareness of the different types of housing fraud and to encourage members of the public to report their suspicions.

Types of housing fraud

  • Unlawful subletting - where a tenant lets out their council or housing association home without the knowledge or permission of their landlord;
  • Abandonment - where a tenant parts possession with their socially rented property, has no intention to return and does not inform the landlord;
  • Right to Buy/Acquire - where a tenant has applied for or completed the purchase of a socially rented home under the Right to Buy/Right to Acquire Scheme when they are not entitled, or misrepresented their circumstances to gain a discount;
  • Wrongly claimed succession - where a tenant dies or moves out and someone, who is not entitled to, tries to take over or succeed the tenancy;
  • Unlawful assignment - where a resident stops using their tenancy as their main or principal home, allowing another person to live there without permission;
  • Key selling - where a tenant is paid to pass on their keys in return for a one-off payment.

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31 Jan 2020

Benefit cheat was repeat offender

A mum from Leeds who illegally claimed more than £28,000 in benefits over a nine-year period has avoided jail.

Zena Hirst claimed she was unemployed and living alone in order to get housing benefits and discount on her council tax.

But the 64-year-old's adult son was living with her and was working full time.

Her offending came to light when a routine check was carried out and revealed that someone else was registered as living with her.

Leeds Crown Court heard Hirst began the offending in January 2009 when she filled out forms for housing and council tax benefits on the basis she was living on her own and was receiving job seeker's allowance.

Prosecutor Laura Addy said Hirst kept up the deception on an annual basis when she received letters reminding her that she must inform authorities if there was a change in her circumstances.

She continued to claim that she was living alone.

The defendant also maintained the lie when she was required to fill out forms when the Bedroom Tax was introduced in 2012.

Hirst came under suspicion in 2018 when a routine check was carried out and an e-mail was sent to her asking if her son was living with her.

Miss Addy said: "She immediately declared that her son was a resident and had been since 2009 and offered to repay the money at a modest rate."

Hirst was interviewed and said her son had been living between her home and his then girlfriend's home at the time she made the claim but he had been living with her on a permanent basis since 2011.

The total amount illegally claimed over the period was just over £28,000.

Hirst pleaded guilty to two offences of benefit fraud.

She has a previous conviction for benefit fraud in 2004 when she received a conditional discharge.

Phillip Morris, mitigating, said Hirst made the benefit claims after she was made redundant from her job in a warehouse in December 2008.

He said she now works as a cleaner and has repaid more than £1,000.

Hirst was given a 14-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.

Judge Simon Batiste said: "I accept that this was not money obtained for high living."

Source

You might think that previous offenders might receive extra scrutiny. But no.

27 Jan 2020

Benefit cheat pursued slowly for historical benefit fraud

A man who cheated Havering Council out of more than £30,000 through council tax and housing benefit fraud has been jailed.

David James Richards, 62, of no fixed abode was handed a seven month prison sentence at Westminster Magistrates' Court on January 21 after refusing to pay a court order of £18,388.90.

Richards, formerly of Abberton Walk, was originally successfully prosecuted in 2011 after investigations found he had claimed £33,757 from Havering Council, and £16,312 from the Department of Work and Pensions - a total loss to the public purse of £50,069.

The council's fraud investigators discovered Richards had flagrantly been living a life of luxury at the expense of local taxpayers.

Investigations found Richards was not only running a successful business with substantial assets, but he was the owner of seven vehicles, a luxury caravan and two speed boats - one of which was called Well Dodgey.

Despite a suspended sentence and a proceeds of crime order being issued - requiring Richards to pay back £41,550 - he still refused to pay the amount owed - even after it was reduced to £18,409.

District Judge Samuel Goozze told him: "You were given two months to sell your assets and pay in full. You have made no attempts to pay, being dilatory, not expediting matters, keeping assets hidden. You leave no option but to serve the seven month prison sentence."

Leader of the council, councillor Damian White, added: "After shamelessly abusing the benefits system at the expense of honest, hard-working, local taxpayers and then repeatedly dodging his responsibility to pay it back or accepting any kind of regret, I am pleased that this defendant has finally got his just deserts."

In addition to the seven month prison sentence, the courts will continue to pursue Richards for the unpaid debt plus interest.

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24 Jan 2020

Anti-fracking campaigner was lying benefit cheat

An anti fracking campaigner who claimed to benefit chiefs he was unable to leave his home was later caught on camera climbing onto a lorry during a protest at Little Plumpton.

John James Knox, 33, was found guilty of benefit fraud following a trial before Preston Crown Court.

The Department for Work and Penions said Knox was found to be claiming ESA as well as Disability Living Allowance for mobility, yet was overtly filmed partaking in demonstrations which included scaling moving lorries and mounting long demonstrations on top of them, while also shackling himself to other demonstrators for long periods of time.

The overpayment of his personal independence payments (PIP) totalled almost £9,000.

The court heard he told the Department for Work and Pensions he suffered a range of mental and physical ailments - but he was filmed climbing onto a lorry on the A583 near the Cuadrilla fracking site.  Knox remained on the roof from 8am until 10.30am the following day, and it had to park up. He was later fined after admitting wilful obstruction of the highway.

Knox, formerly of Dugdale Place, Blackpool, but now of Maplewood, Liverpool, pleaded not guilty - despite the picture evidence - to failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions over a change in circumstances. But he was convicted after prosecutors said he had made a statement that he needed assistance bathing and dressing himself and leaving the house.

Judge Andrew Jefferies QC adjourned his sentencing until March 9.

Source with pictures of the lying bastard

20 Jan 2020

Parents jailed for long term benefit fraud

A shameless couple pocketed £108,754 of taxpayers' money to live a life of luxury by pretending they were landlord and tenant to steal benefit cash.

Melissa Ellis, 34 and Jonathan Lucas, 38, were handed the money over a nine-year period.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that they kept housing benefit and other kick-backs their weren't entitled to - and spent it on mega-money trips to America, Dubai and Portugal.

They even upgraded their Huyton home which has special security gates.

On the driveway was a convoy of vehicles including a Jaguar car, a Mercedes, a Range Rover and a Transit van with a trailer.

There were also four mountain bikes, one large scrambler bike and two smaller bikes in the garage at their home.

Suspicious fraud investigators for the Department for Work and Pensions eventually snared the couple after visiting the four bedroom pad.

Ellis and Lucas, who illegally claimed the benefits between 2008 and 2017, were living together as husband and wife, it was discovered.

Ellis claimed housing benefit as a tenant and then paid it to her partner, Lucas, a self-employed businessman, as her landlord and the property owner.

The couple were arrested at the scene.

Lucas admitted to officers there was also cash belonging to him in a safe in the loft.

They found £35,000 and more money in the kitchen, along with some Mexican currency. In total, they seized £55,931 and $437.59 in Mexican Pesos.

The couple were taken to St Anne Street police station for questioning.

Ellis was shown her applications for housing benefit and income support made from her previous address in Garston, and her current Huyton address, all made as a single parent. The 34-year-old admitted making false claims.

Lucas claimed to live at an address in Abergele, north Wales, but investigators found it to be frequently booked up as a holiday cottage with paying guests.

Ellis eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of making a dishonest representation to obtain benefit and three counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances. She was jailed for two years and three months.

Lucas pleaded guilty to two counts of encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence. He was handed 21 months behind bars.

Investigators will try and recoup some of the £108,000 in a Proceeds of Crime application.

Maqsood Khan, from Merseyside Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Jonathan Lucas and Melissa Ellis are a pair of serial fraudsters who were falsely claiming a variety of benefits while living a very nice lifestyle indeed. The most that Jonathan Lucas would admit to was that Melissa Ellis was his ‘on-off girlfriend’, yet they were clearly living together as man and wife, bringing up their three children and going on expensive foreign holidays together.

“Lucas denied living at the house in St Mary’s Road but was shown the tenancy agreements for both that property and the house in [Garston] and confirmed he’d completed them and then given them to Ellis knowing she would be using them for her housing benefit claim. He said he didn’t see what was wrong with him charging Ellis rent for living in the house, even though his children were living there too.

"Nailing these two cheats has taken a lot of work, but they eventually pleaded guilty and have now been sent to prison. The benefits system is there to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society. That clearly doesn’t include Jonathan Lucas and Melissa Ellis.”

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17 Jan 2020

Repeat benefit cheat claimed for dead wife - prison again

A 71-year-old man fraudulently claimed almost £32,000 in benefits as his wife's carer while she actually lived in a residential home.

Norman Gill continued to receive benefits after she passed away, until someone anonymously told the authorities what was going on.

Gill had previously been handed a suspended prison sentence after using the public purse to pay the mortgage on his half-a-million pound house in Swansea by claiming to be penniless while in fact running two successful businesses.

He was back in court on Thursday for more benefit frauds, offences committed shortly after he was released from prison for failing to pay back money from the first scam.

Swansea Crown Court heard Gill's initial claim for carer's allowance and pension credits on the basis he was caring for his wife - who was suffering with MS - was legitimate.

However, when his wife's condition deteriorated and she moved into Swansea 's Hengoed Court residential home in March 2012, Gill continued to claim benefits he was not entitled to.

Tom Scapens, prosecuting, said over the course of the following years the defendant was sent regular letters reminding him of his obligation to notify the authorities about any change of benefits.

The barrister said in 2015 Gill was also asked to fill and return a pension credit form which specifically included a question about whether his partner was living in a care home, to which he had replied no.

The court heard Mrs Gill died in January 2018 but the defendant did not notify the authorities - it was only some three months later following the receipt of information from an anonymous source that checks were made with the care home, and the true situation was revealed.

Gill, from Langland, Swansea, had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of a change of circumstances when he appeared in the dock for sentencing.

The court heard that in 2009 he had been sentenced to 48 weeks in prison suspended for two years for benefit fraud. This offending had seen him claiming benefits from Swansea Council and the DWP on the basis he was unemployed and had no income - in reality he ran Piaf Fashions, which made him around £90,000 a year, and was the boss of property firm NT Project Management, which provided an income of up to £3,500 per month through its portfolio of houses in Swansea and Port Talbot .

The court heard he had been ordered to pay back £200,000 from his ill-gotten gains from this fraud but after failing to do was was jailed for 10 months. That financial confiscation order is still in place.

John Allchurch, for Gill, said it had been a "stressful and distressing time" for the defendant as he watched the health of his wife of almost four decades deteriorating - but he accepted he should have told the authorities about the changes in circumstances.

The court heard Gill has been in an "on-off" relationship with a woman in London for the last seven years, but the advocate said he did not know the "minutiae" of that relationship.

Mr Allchurch said his client's house was currently on the market for some £700,000 but there were two large mortgages on the property - both in excess of £300,000 - and if it is sold, the combination of those plus the outstanding confiscation order will extinguish any equity in the property, and leave the defendant homeless and having to leave "Swansea west".

Judge Paul Thomas QC told Gill he had embarked on his fraudulent claim for carer benefits "within a relatively short period" of having served a prison sentence for falling to pay what he owed from the original fraud.

He said the "persistence" of the defendant's fraudulent activities meant immediate custody was appropriate, despite his age.

Gill was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison - he will serve half that period in custody before being released on licence to serve the remainder in the community.

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16 Jan 2020

Man committed two social housing frauds

A housing fraudster from Kingswinford who sublet his council home has been handed a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years and a bill of more than £7,000.

Dudley Council successfully brought a case against John David Facer, aged 52, of Keepers Close, who was sentenced at Dudley Magistrates Court on Friday January 10.

Mr Facer was found to be subletting his one-bedroom property for three years while he was living in a property that he had bought in Kidderminster.

After selling the home in Kidderminster and making a profit of £58,000, Mr Facer moved back to Keepers Close and submitted a fraudulent Right to Buy application to purchase the property from Dudley Council.

Had his application been successful, this would have entitled Mr Facer to a discount to the value of £36,250.

However, due to further investigations into the sublet of the property the application was cancelled by the council.

Mr Facer pleaded guilty to subletting his council property, under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud.

Before sentencing District Judge Webster warned Mr Facer he was “close to leaving the court in a van” but he proceeded to sentence Mr Facer to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered Mr Facer to complete 240 hours of unpaid work.

Mr Facer will also have to pay back an unlawful profit order of £1,955.68, a victim surcharge of £115 and legal costs of £5,000.

Due to Mr Facer being unwilling to relinquish the tenancy voluntarily, the council are in the process of recovering possession of the property, in order that it can be allocated to an eligible applicant who is in need of social housing. The possession case is due to be heard at the end of January 2020.

Councillor Laura Taylor, Dudley's cabinet member for housing, communities and residents' welfare, said:
Mr Facer’s actions will have deprived someone in genuine need of housing and once again we are showing people that falsifying housing applications is a serious offence. I would remind anyone who may be considering falsifying a housing application that we will take legal action against people who commit housing fraud.
Source

15 Jan 2020

Lawyer was benefit cheat

A "Walter Mitty" lawyer who claimed £60,000 in disability handouts by falsely claiming he could barely walk was filmed by investigators scaling the stairs inside a courthouse.

Dr Alan Blacker, 47, said he was only able to walk with "much intrepidity, pain and fear of falling after only 20 yards but was photographed "moving with ease" at Cardiff Crown Court.

He also seen "looking particularly elated" after a legal victory where he scaled the court's stairs, saluted security staff as he was searched and pounded the corridors inside - giving staff a cheery wave en route.

Incriminating CCTV footage of Blacker - who also goes by the name Lord Harley - was taken by DWP officials who also discovered the school governor had helped construct a miniature railway.

He also took part in first aid training whilst claiming state handouts between September 1997 and October 2015.

Blacker a solicitor advocate, from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, who was once compared by a judge to a "character from Harry Potter" - claimed disability living allowance including a high rate mobility component which is usually applicable to claimants who have no legs or feet from birth or due to amputation.

In one claim form from 1998 he said: "My whole life centres around avoiding pain, I cannot carry on through life without it really impacting me and causing me real pain. I am not able to keep my focus on any other thing. I started with these problems in 1996. I have problems with self care. These problems cause a risk to my life".

In a subsequent statement he also said he had his own specially adapted shower and said: "Some days I lay in bed all day and cannot motivate myself to get up. I feel like my condition has worsened."

At Minshull Street Crown Court he was convicted of benefit fraud after the CCTV was shown to a jury.

He was sentenced to nine months jail suspended for two years after Judge Paul Lawton branded him a "dishonest man and a deluded fantasist."

Sentencing the judge added: "The picture you painted was one of a severely disabled man but what you said was plainly dishonest. You regularly went out and walked around without a walking stick, aid or carer.

"You walked around a primary school regularly in your capacity as school governor. You made weekly visits to the miniature railway societies where you assisted in driving and maintaining the trains and took part in track maintenance. Those were not the actions of a man on excruciating daily pain.

"You were walking around Cardiff crown court ascending and descending steel flights of stairs with no difficulty whatsoever.

"What you do have diagnoses of alkalising spondylitis and tenosynovitis but you simply use those existing conditions as a dishonest shroud behind which you completely exaggerated your physical disabilities.

"After observing you over a sustained period at trial, I am satisfied that you are not only a dishonest man, but also a deluded fantasist.

"Ultimately and in desperation you tried to tell the jury that the DWP were conspiring to convict you because of your success against them as a benefits appeal lawyer. This was utter desperation from a man confronted with the truth.

"One thing you plainly failed to grasp in your legal education Mr Blacker, is that the rule of law applies to us all - it has no preferences or favourites and those who abuse it are inevitably found out, as you were.

"The jury properly saw through your complete Walter Mitty existence. That was public money that you dishonestly claimed, the loss to the tax payer in excess of £60,000."

Blacker had come to prominence in 2014 when another judge at Cardiff demanded to know why Blacker appeared before him wearing colourful ribbons and badges on his gown to represent a man charged with death by dangerous driving.

He compared his Hagrid-like outfit to "something out of Harry Potter" and urged Blacker to dress more appropriately in future.'

At the time Blacker publicly claimed he was "shocked, appalled and very upset" by the criticism but CCTV of him at court was later seized after DWP officials suspected he was illegally pocketing handouts.

Miss Chloe Fordham prosecuting said: "Witnesses describe many circumstances where he was engaged in a number of actions such as first aid training, which requires physical actions and the construction of a model railway.

"He was seen walking up and down stairs and getting into and out of vehicles without difficulty. He was seen to use a stick but there was nobody helping him standing or walking.

"He believed he was someone who was entitled to retain his benefits but the prosecution say he was dishonest about the changes in his circumstances in order to continue to claim disability living allowance.

"The high rate mobility component is available to people who cannot walk at all, or have no legs or feet from birth or due to amputation.

"They can only walk short distances before being in severe discomfort or endangering their life. They are either 100% blind and/or 80% deaf, or somewhat mentally impaired.

"A middle rate care component is available for people who require frequent assistance getting in and out of the bathroom, washing, dressing and tending to their needs. They also require supervision throughout the day.

"The defendant said he needed someone for "physical support", for getting to the bathroom, and he had a problem keeping his balance. He said he could walk no more than 20 yards says he falls over regularly and has trouble crossing the roads.

"When asked if he would need someone he said "yes, everyday without fail. I cannot rise from my feet without someone, I cannot stand up for long enough".

He also said he has problems cutting up food and eating and drinking.

"He said he always found sitting painful and said he has to use large handled cutlery. In 2011 there was a further form claiming his entitlement to benefits was appropriate as he was unable to walk and needed full physical support.

"He said he received physical care from someone and said he was at risk of harming himself by accident."

"He said he practised law through a charity and not for financial gain and was shown footage where he was seen moving about with ease at Cardiff Crown Court in 2014.

"He told them he won a Crown Court case on behalf of a client and he became particularly elated but it It must have been clear to Alan Blacker that once he was able to move around, he should have informed those facts to the DWP. But he knew this would affect his entitlement.

The DWP stopped Blacker's benefits in 2016 following a review.

That same year he was struck off for making "inaccurate and misleading" statements about his academic qualifications and professional memberships and was later made bankrupt by the Solicitors Regulation Authority with debts of over £100,000.

Blacker denied benefit fraud. Defence lawyer lawyer Dominic D'Souza said in mitigation: "This man has suffered with many severe disabilities. These conditions are debilitating. He has assisted over 7,500 clients over a 25 year basis and he had been doing pro bono legal work.

"He is somebody, bar this incident, who has contributed to this community that puts people like me to shame.

"The question of being a doctor, or lord, or viscount, there are self esteem issues there. He has done an awful lot for an awful lot of people.

"He suffers from a Walter Mitty desire to improve his self esteem. This is not an out and out fraud. This will be paid back over time."

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