Ex-Eastwood mayor guilty of £13,000 benefit fraud

Brian Griffin
Brian Griffin

A former Eastwood mayor has been found guilty of swindling more than £13,000 in benefits by claiming he was so disabled he could barely walk.

Brian Griffin, 76, was caught marching over a mile during a Remembrance Day parade on November 11, 2012 and was filmed by fraud surveillance teams.

Ex-Mayor Brian Griffin and Sir Andrew Buchanan (right)

Ex-Mayor Brian Griffin and Sir Andrew Buchanan (right)

Between June 3, 2009 and January 29, 2013 he received £13,448.95 in disability living allowance after claiming he could not walk more than 10 metres.

But he was captured by undercover investigators as he marched to lay a wreath at a war memorial on Armistice Day as part of his duties as Mayor of Eastwood.

Nottingham Magistrates’ Court heard that despite claiming he struggled to balance and was in danger of falling at any time, Griffin had carried out more than 130 mayoral duties in just one year.

The pensioner denied one count of failing to promptly notify the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) of a change of circumstances but was found guilty after a two-day trial.

The court heard Griffin - who was injured in a fall in 1997 - first claimed (DLA) in 2003 after suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

But his condition improved over the years and he failed to inform the authorities in his change of circumstances.

Adjourning sentencing to a later date, chairman of the Bench Chris Thompson said: “Having carefully considered all the evidence we find you guilty.

“When the claim was originally made in 2003 you said you were unable to walk a distance greater than 10m.

“This meant that you were given the highest level of disability allowance.

“In claim forms in 2010 and 2012 you did put that your condition varies, but we do not feel that you explained fully that your walking is better than it was in 2003.

“In those claim forms you were evasive in your answers, you continued to be evasive in interview and we felt again in your evidence today.

“We are going to ask for a report to be written on you, you will return here on August 21.”

The court heard that despite saying he would regularly fall over, Griffin maintained a season ticket at Nottingham Forest FC in the higher part of a stand’s upper tier and was an active member of Eastwood’s bowls club.

He was also spotted standing for two hours selling poppies, helping a friend fix a roof and working on his allotment.

Prosecuting Frederick Powell told the court the DWP had first been alerted to Griffin’s improving condition by an anonymous tip from a member of the public.

He said: “The claim was his walking was limited to ten metres, that he had problems with his balance and that he used crutches and a walking stick.

“The DWP received an internet complaint that Brian Griffin was more capable than he told, having been seen to walk long distances.

“He used his stick, but it was more for show than assistance.

“Furthermore it stated that he was the mayor of Eastwood and carried out his role with no problem, making numerous appearances at events.

“Surveillance was carried out between September and November 2012.

“During this period Brian Griffin was seen to walk long distances and to carry out tasks he had stated on the claim form he was unable to do.

“He was seen to attend Nottingham Forest Football Club, to work on an allotment, selling poppies in a local shop and taking part in the Remembrance Day parade.

“There he was seen to walk in excess of 1,800m. I will remind you his original form said 10m.

“He was using his walking stick, but he barely grounded it and he was also carrying a wreath and remained on foot the whole period.

“This is not a victimless crime, the DLA is there for people who need it, they are the victims, the people who need this money.”

Griffin, who was mayor of Eastwood twice in 2010/11 and 2012/13, had denied the charge but JPs rejected this after they were shown nearly two hours of footage detailing Mr Griffin’s frequent exertions.

He had claimed DWP investigators caught him “on a good day” when he they filmed him at the Remembrance Day parade.

Giving evidence he said: “I was an active member of the community, my injury stopped that. It was a fall down some small steps and I thought I was OK.

“I try to walk because the doctors told me if I don’t I will lose my leg, but I suffer later for it.

“Remembrance was one of my good days, I made the effort to go and suffered for it later. I have been forced to miss it in the past.”

He told the court that his season ticket at Nottingham Forest had been bought by his nephews to bring him out of a deep depression when his wife Joanne died of brain cancer seven years ago.

Griffin claimed that rather than seeking assistance from fellow fans he pulled himself up the steep Brian Clough Stand steps using just his walking stick.

Brian Griffin is still currently a serving Labour councillor representing Eastwood Town Council’s southern ward but today said he had not yet decided whether or not to step down from the authority.

He added: “I still believe I did nothing to deliberately mislead the DWP, I suffered my injury 17 years ago for which I still receive treatment for today.

“I’m a honest and proud man and have always been truthful. I put on my form that my condition varied day to day and the Remembrance parade was one of my better days.

“I did not intend to deliberately deceive anybody - it’s not like I’m a paedophile, robber or a drug dealer.

“The judgement just went against me and I have not yet made a decision on my future role at the council.”

Defending Jessica Vogel said Griffin, whose benefits were taken away from him when he was reassessed by a doctor last year, was already repaying what he owed.

He was released on unconditional bail and will be sentenced on August 21.

Speaking after the verdict DWP fraud manager Paul Baggaley said: “It is our duty to ensure that benefit payments go to those who really need them and we are committed to cracking down on those who play the system.

“Our welfare reforms are vital to close the gaps that cheats take advantage of.

“It is unfair that some people get support when they do not have a disability, while many people depend on the benefits system to provide a safety net.

“Deliberately not informing us of a change in your condition that may affect your claim is a crime.

“Don’t wait for our fraud investigators to find you. Tell us of a change now.”