Benefits fraudster 'couldn't walk unaided' despite racing in cycle speedway

A fraudster who claimed he could not walk unaided while receiving tens of thousands of pounds in disability benefits was rumbled when he was caught racing in cycle speedway events.

Stephen Hodgkinson, inset, was sentenced at Wolverhampton Crown Court, main, after claiming £90,000 in benefits despite taking part in cycle speedway events
Stephen Hodgkinson, inset, was sentenced at Wolverhampton Crown Court, main, after claiming £90,000 in benefits despite taking part in cycle speedway events

Stephen Hodgkinson claimed he was mostly confined to a wheelchair and that when he did walk, could only do so with assistance.

The 58-year-old claimed benefits over a 17-year period and said his condition left him so weak that on some days he couldn’t manage with basic household tasks.

However, Hodgkinson was racing in speedway for the Birmingham Monarchs cycle speedway club and running and taking part in indoor vibe cycling classes.

He also regularly attended a gym at Birmingham's Alexander Stadium.

Hodgkinson was arrested following an investigation by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and given a suspended jail sentence at Wolverhampton Crown Court yesterday after admitting two counts of fraud.

The court heard how Hodgkinson initially made a genuine claim for support in 2002 as he suffered with AIDS.

But in the years that followed his condition improved significantly, to the point where he was able to race competitively in speedway.

He received £90,000 in benefits over 17 years.

The defendant, of Harvest Road, Smethwick, claimed he needed help to eat and get dressed and could not go upstairs without falling down, Mr Nicholas Berry, prosecuting, explained. But he told assessors on a “good day” he would be able to drive to see friends.

Mr Berry said: "He stated he could not walk without significant discomfort, and that he could not walk without someone supporting him.

"He described how he needed physical help to get dressed, to eat and use drinks."

Hodgkinson failed to inform the DWP that his condition had improved and even challenged a lower rate that was assigned to him when his support switched to Personal Independent Payments in 2016, the court was told.

Judge Martin Jackson said that showed deliberate intent to defraud the DWP.

Mr Berry said although it was "not fraud from the outset" there was "significant planning" to ensure he continued to receive cash he was not entitled to once his condition improved.

The fraudster was rumbled when pictures of him taking part in cycle speedway and posing beside trophies on his Facebook and Twitter accounts came to light.

Other evidence was found in newspaper reports of his exploits.

He was put under surveillance by investigators and was seen walking freely around the speedway track and riding in competition in a “fast-paced, competitive nature”.

Judge Jackson said: "Your initial claim for Disability Living Allowance was a legitimate one. But over a significant period of time you failed to notify the DWP in changes to your circumstances and painted a picture one can only describe as extreme helplessness.

"You failed to tell the DWP that you were in significantly better condition than when your claim started. By your plea you accept you were dishonest in your failure to notify them."

Hodgkinson was given a 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

Ms Balvinder Bhatti, defending, said Hodgkinson's initial claim was genuine as he was living with a "frightening and life-limiting condition".

She added: "He accepts it wasn't as bad as he said. It improved and he deeply regrets not telling anybody."

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News