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Forklift truck driver 'who used walking stick' pocketed £50k in benefits

By Annabal Bagdi | Burntwood | Crime | Published:

A benefit cheat who falsely claimed more than £50,000 after telling the authorities he could barely walk was filmed climbing flights of stairs at work, a judge heard.

Footage captured Neil Sheppard walking

Forklift driver Neil Sheppard said his multiple sclerosis meant he took 20 minutes to walk just 100m and claimed he needed care support.

But the 54-year-old failed to tell authorities when his health improved and instead pocketed benefits he was not entitled to over a 15-year stint.

WATCH: Footage captured Sheppard walking up stairs

Footage released showing benefits cheat Neil Sheppard

Prosecution barrister Rachel Pennington said: "Listed on his self-assessment claim form to the DWP, he was claiming restricted mobility and help with care needs; that it took him 20 minutes to walk 100 metres, used a walking stick and would lose his balance."

Sentencing at Stafford Crown Court, Judge Jonathan Gosling said Sheppard’s claims had not been ‘fraudulent from the outset’.

He added: “It is always serious to cheat the state out of benefits. It affects the entire welfare system and is a serious drain on scarce resources.

“He simply failed to understand the importance of reporting changes.”

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Sheppard was handed the higher rate mobility component of the disability living allowance after being deemed ‘virtually unable to walk’.

He was also given the lower rate to help him cook and prepare meals, prosecutor Ms Rachel Pennington said on Thursday.

The fraudster, of Severn Drive, Burntwood, declared on self-assessed forms his mobility was restricted and he was forced to regularly use a walking stick.

But investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions discovered he had been working as a multi-skilled operative for Minworth’s Mondelez.

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Colleagues noticed ‘family-man’ Sheppard walked unaided but slow and with stiffness to his legs, and climbed two flights of stairs to attend work meetings.

Defence barrister, Ms Catherine O’Reilly, said Sheppard, who was overpaid £51,867.95, was ‘genuinely remorseful and embarrassed’.

She added: “He has a good work ethic despite the fact that he had considerable difficulties.

“He accepts entirely that he was in the wrong.”

Sheppard admitted failing to notify a change in circumstances to obtain a benefit between February 28, 2001, and May 17, 2016.

He was handed a nine-month sentence, suspended for 18 months, a six-month supervision requirement and a four-month curfew.

Afterwards, the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like this show how we are catching those who cheat the system and divert taxpayers' money from the people who need it.

"We are determined to catch those we suspect of fraudulently claiming benefits by following up on tip-offs, undertaking surveillance and working with local councils."

Annabal Bagdi

By Annabal Bagdi
@AnnabalB_Star

Senior reporter based at head office in Wolverhampton.

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