Athlete 'raced' while signed off work

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The Independent Online

A sprinter took part in national athletics competitions and was paid to coach youngsters while off work with a bad back, a court heard today.

Matthew Thomas, 34, was signed off his job as a payroll officer for Newham Council after telling bosses he had fallen from a ladder and injured his back, a jury at Inner London Crown Court was told.

Prosecutors said he received £13,892.12 in pay while off sick for seven months from November 2007 until he resigned in June 2008.

But Thomas, from East Ham, east London, raced in the Birmingham Athletic Games in February 2008 and the Surrey County Indoor Championships in March 2008, the court heard.

He also led regular 90-minute coaching sessions for Met-Track - an athletics scheme set up by the Metropolitan Police - throughout the period, jurors were told.

Rebecca Channon, prosecuting, said the case showed "two sides" of Thomas, who had worked for the council since 1998.

She said he submitted sickness certificates claiming he was unfit to work while at the same time carrying out other activities.

"This case is about fraud and dishonesty," she said. "Plainly he was carrying on quite an active life outside his employment at the London Borough of Newham whilst being off sick."

Thomas denies one count of fraud by failing to disclose information about his work for the Met-Track scheme and 10 counts of fraud by false representation due to the sickness certificates he submitted.

Ms Channon said the prosecution case was that Thomas was fit to work despite the sick notes and claims that he was unfit to work, he was dishonest and he gained from his alleged actions by receiving full sick pay.

He was also under a legal duty to disclose his second employment as an athletics coach, she added.

"You will hear evidence from Paula Astrella, his line manager, that from November 12 2007 she was under the impression that Matthew Thomas was unfit to attend work as a result of his fall," she told the court.

"She will tell you that on November 12 he telephoned her to inform her of his situation.

"The very next day Matthew Thomas was able to work as an athletics coach on the Met-Track scheme for a 90-minute session which was not known or disclosed to his employers."

Over the following weeks and months, Thomas updated his line manager to say he was still in pain and struggled with everyday tasks such as getting dressed and driving, the court heard.

Ms Channon told jurors they would see video footage of Thomas coaching youngsters and sprinting on a running track during the time he said he was unfit to work.

She said Thomas later admitted he had taken part in the activities but did not believe they were inconsistent with his injury.

"He says his reason for participating in athletics competitions was to use the free physiotherapy that was available at such events and also to test the progress he had made in terms of his injury," Ms Channon said.

"In his interview, he said he was having difficulty sitting down for long periods of time and his injury had little or no effect on his ability to work as an athletics coach and to participate in athletics events but would not allow him to carry out his role as a payroll officer.

"He was saying his injury was not inconsistent with his participation in athletics."

Ms Channon added: "It will be for you to decide whether he was making false representations and whether he was being dishonest."