Jail for man who falsely claimed to be paraplegic in benefits swindle

A man who claimed to be paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair to claim nearly £250,000 in benefits to feed a chronic gambling addiction has been jailed for more than three years.

For 16 years Brian Matthews, 52, falsely claimed incapacity benefit, industrial injuries benefit, disability living allowance and housing benefit.

Truro Crown Court heard Matthews also made claims to the Department for Work and Pensions in the name of a second wife, stole the identity of a dead man to continue claiming his benefits and said he looked after his three children, who he said were disabled.

Jo Martin QC, prosecuting, said by 2015 Matthews was receiving £4,200 a month in benefits but had racked up gambling debts of £350,000.

"He found the weak points in the system," she said.

"There are four ways Mr Matthews defrauded the benefits system.

Matthews misrepresented his condition to the DWP (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)
Matthews misrepresented his condition to the DWP (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

"He claimed benefits in his own name and, the Crown say, from 2001 claimed he was paraplegic or quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair following an accident at work in 1997, which he said crushed his spine.

"He claimed benefits in the name of his second wife; he stole the identity of a man called David Blewett, a man who died in tragic circumstances, to claim his benefits between 2011 and 2016; he claimed benefits for his children, even though his children had been fostered largely from the time of birth."

In forms to the DWP Matthews claimed to be "totally disabled" and "entirely wheelchair bound" and required "24-hour supervision".

He also sought compensation after claiming he had been attacked by a gang of youths, in which he said he had lost his testicles.

Doctors who assessed Matthews agreed he was quadriplegic after accepting his presentation in a wheelchair, despite not physically examining him.

He also forged letters and reports to support his benefit claims and said he could only sign his name by holding a pen in his mouth.

"The Crown's case is that the applications were over-inflated with total lies about his medical conditions," Miss Martin said.

She told the court Matthews, who carried on working until at least 2005, fooled the authorities by using different addresses in Chingford, Penzance and Southend.

On one occasion when the DWP learnt Mr Blewett was dead an official went to his former home where he met Matthews, who now lived there, wearing dark glasses, carrying a stick and claiming to be blind, saying he was Mr Blewett, the former tenant.

Matthews had also been treated in hospital for a broken wrist which he said had happened while lifting 50kg weights.

The court heard his wife suffered a stroke which enabled him to claim that Mr Blewett, who was really dead, was her full-time carer.

Police and the DWP launched a complex investigation into Matthews in 2013 and he was arrested three years later.

At his two addresses in Essex, police found no evidence of any disability or any wheelchairs at the properties.

"There was found an undated photograph of Mr Matthews posing for a modelling agency called New Faces," Miss Martin said.

"Mr Matthews was present at the Chingford address and his car, which had no adaptions and had been provided for him by the mobility car scheme, was parked two streets away.

"Mr Matthews was videoed walking with a walking stick."

At his Penzance home, police found a wheelchair at the back of a cupboard, a set of golf clubs and an undated photograph of him playing golf.

At a previous hearing Matthews, of Roscadghill Parc, Penzance, Cornwall pleaded guilty to six charges of making a false representation to claim benefit and two charges of fraud, between November 2001 to February 2016.

Matthews had arrived in court in an electric wheelchair and attempted to change some of his pleas, which forced his barrister to withdraw.

Judge Robert Linford rejected Matthews' applications and carried on, with the defendant representing himself.

Matthews told the court that the police and DWP had "twisted" things against him and he still maintained he was innocent of some of the charges he had pleaded guilty to.

"I care for my wife, she needs lots of care. I am actually saving the Government a lot of money," he added.

Judge Linford, who jailed Matthews for 42 and a half months on Friday, said: "On the basis of a neurologist's report I find to a degree you are genuinely disabled but your disability, such as it is, does not come close to the extent you were maintaining it was when you committed these offences.

"Your disability does not explain or excuse your through and through dishonesty. You are, Mr Matthews, a conman."

Judge Linford added that Matthews' attempts to delay the sentencing hearing were a "true mark of you".

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