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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Benefits claim man who said he was too ill to work caught playing golf - court

A Cumbrian man who claimed nearly £39,000 in Disability Living Allowance over nine years was secretly filmed playing golf and renovating a house, a court heard.

Leigh Neilly photo
Leigh Neilly

On his claim form, filled out in 2001, Leigh Neilly, 41, told officials he could walk no more than 100m without feeling severe discomfort and that it took him up to 10 minutes to cover that distance.

He said he needed somebody beside him outside because there was a danger his legs might “give way”.

Neilly also wrote that he had difficulty gripping a toothbrush, the jury heard.

But Carlisle Crown Court was yesterday shown a series of covert surveillance videos taken last year. On one occasion, said prosecutor Tim Evans, the defendant was filmed striding across Silloth Golf Course and he was filmed driving the ball down the fairway.

Neilly denies benefit fraud by making false claims about his health, and a charge of failing to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) his health had improved enough to affect his claim.

Mr Evans said benefit fraud is not a victimless crime because taxpayers are defrauded when money goes to those who do not deserve it.

“The Crown says that Leigh Neilly is just such an individual: that he made a claim to benefit suggesting he had a severe disability which he quite simply did not have,” said Mr Evans.

Mr Evans said that the Crown’s case was that Neilly’s claim for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – made in October 2001 – had been fraudulent from the outset. He said: “In any event, it is plain he was not throughout the period you are concerned with severely disabled. You will see his prowess on the golf course and his house renovations.

“It is plain, therefore, that if it ever was severe – which the Crown suggest it was never – that it came to very significantly improve.”

The jury was then shown a series of video surveillance clips, taken at various times during 2010, when Neilly, of Wampool Street, Silloth, was still claiming DLA.

In the video of Mr Neilly on Silloth Golf Course, said Mr Evans, he is seen striding across the green, with nobody there to support him.

Commenting of a shot which the prosecutions says shows the defendant driving the ball across the fairway, Mr Evans said: “You can see what happens – the ball goes, and the club stays.” In another clip, Neilly is shown chipping the ball onto the green.

Mr Evans said the jury should ask whether this was a man who had trouble gripping a toothbrush?

Between April 2001 and July 2002, a period straddling the defendant’s DLA claim, Neilly played 19 rounds of competitive golf, the jury heard.Between 2002, when he joined Silloth Golf Club, and 2008, his golfing handicap improved, said Mr Evans.At no point in his eight years as a member of the club, continued the barrister, did Neilly use the motorised golf buggy available for members who had trouble walking.

The jury then heard evidence from DWP fraud investigator Alan Robinson, who led the covert surveillance of the defendant in 2010.

Mr Robinson confirmed that a man seen arriving on a bike at a house in Silloth and then working on its renovation was the defendant.

The film showed him carrying a ladder, and shaking out a dust sheet, and also emptying a large bucket of water onto the street. Later footage showed the same man cycling home, with just one hand on the handlebars because he was smoking a cigarette.

In yet another video sequence, the defendant was filmed walking through Penrith town centre, and browsing in the town’s British Heart Foundation charity shop.

The final sequence shows Neilly carrying two large shopping bags back to his Motability car with his wife walking at his side. Asked how far the defendant had walked that day, Mr Robinson confirmed that he had measured the distance as being 1,489 yards.

“At any stage,” asked Mr Evans, “did he have to stop and rest?” Mr Robinson replied: “I did not see that at all.”

The case continues.

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