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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Cumbrian benefits cheat could have to sell house

A benefits cheat jailed after being caught on camera playing golf after telling the authorities he was too ill to walk very far could have to sell his house to pay back the money he received.

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Challenge: Leigh Neilly dishonestly claimed benefits

Leigh Neilly, 41, pocketed more than £36,800 in disability benefits over an eight-year period between April 2002 and July 2010.

The father-of-two, who has a half-share in the family home in Wampool Street in Silloth, was later jailed for seven and a half months after being convicted of failing to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that his health had improved enough to affect his claim.

Neilly had based his claims for benefits on the grounds that he believed he was suffering from motor-neurone disease and found walking so difficult it took him up to five minutes to cover 100 metres.

Yet, when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) carried out surveillance in – between April 2010 and June 2010 – he was videoed playing golf, painting a fence, visiting car boot sales, renovating a house, riding a bike with one hand and carrying heavy bags while shopping with his wife in Penrith.

He told the DWP he needed help fastening buttons and zips, brushing his teeth and cooking.

Neilly had denied failing to report an improvement in his health and a second allegation – on which he was acquitted – that his claim for Disability Living Allowance was fraudulent from the outset.

Now Neilly is facing action under the Proceeds of Crime Act, the procedure by which criminals are made to pay back any financial benefit they have made from their crimes.

A hearing under the Act was due to have been heard at Carlisle Crown Court last week, but it had to be postponed after his barrister Elizabeth Muir was hurt in a horse-riding accident.

Yesterday Judge Barbara Forrester ordered that the case would have to be heard on October 19.

Stand-in defence barrister Mark Shepherd said Neilly disputed the amount the prosecution claimed under the Proceeds of Crime Act because he still did not accept that he did wrong in claiming the benefits paid to him.

He said Neilly intended to challenge both the amount of benefit he is said to have received and the fact that he should be made to pay it all back.

Judge Forrester said the case would go ahead next month “come what may” - a reference to fears that Neilly, who in the past has twice sacked his legal advisers, might want to do so again.

The judge said that if necessary Neilly would have to represent himself, as he did throughout the trial at which he was found guilty.

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