Dancer spared jail over benefits fraud

A 61-year-old jazz dancer who fraudulently claimed nearly £20,000 in disability benefits walked free from court today.

Terence Read said he was crippled by arthritis and barely able to walk but his condition improved following a hip replacement operation.



He failed to notify the change in his circumstances to the Department for Work and Pensions and officials later covertly filmed him dancing enthusiastically at a swing music night after receiving an anonymous tip-off that he was wrongly claiming Disability Living Allowance.



Read, of Blackley, Manchester, was caught on camera gliding across the dancefloor and spinning his dance partner around while being cheered on by crowds of onlookers at an event in his home city.



Sentencing Read at Manchester Crown Court, Judge Rudland told him that in his case public interest was not served by imposing a custodial sentence.



He was given a 12-month community order and ordered to complete 120 hours of unpaid work.



The court heard that Read had legitimately claimed for benefits for 10 years from March 1995.



He suffered arthritis from the age of 25 and in the early 1990s he was virtually housebound.



However, the operation on his left leg provided "instant relief" and proved such a success he was able to take an interest in his new hobby.



He illegally continued to claim Disability Living Allowance between June 2005 and December 2008 to the tune of £19,915.



Judge Rudland told him: "You learned to live frugally and contentedly, going out rarely, until the dancing came into your life, which seemed to transform your joie de vivre.



"There is absolutely no suggestion you are a shirker who has avoided work.



"It is agreed that the sad fact is you were afflicted by arthritis from as young an age as 25 when most people are enjoying life with an abundance of vigour.



"In your mid to late 40s you were assessed as being eligible for the appropriate benefits. A time came when you undertook a hip replacement operation which had a significant impact on your mobility.



"Your life opened up because of the dancing and interest in the swing music of the '40s, which has a considerable following, and you became an accomplished performer on public display.



"I suspect over time the claim being made went to the back of your mind and it was something you took for granted.



"Your case was genuine at the start and then drifted into dishonesty.



"It is not in the public interest that you should be deprived of your liberty. You are doing good work by taking the activity (swing music) into care homes, that brings some pleasure and therapy into lives as a result of the commitment you make in that way."



Read, of Northwold Drive, has paid back £3,000 of the money owed and a plan is in place to settle the remainder.



The court was told that Read also claimed housing and council tax benefit during the three-and-a-half year fraudulent period but faced no charges on those matters because he was already entitled to them.



Jonathan Rogers, prosecuting, said the defendant stated in 1995 that he used a walking stick and could only walk short distances before suffering extreme pain.



He needed help getting out of bed and would lose his balance and fall up to three times a day.



Mr Rogers said: "It appeared that the defendant had an operation on his hip, following which his condition improved greatly and he was able to carry out normal and energetic day-to-day activities.



"The operation was in 2003 and the defendant said his activity and mobility improved within two years.



"Inquiries carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions has indicated that since at least 2005 the defendant has been organising and running dance events or swing nights at various locations in the Greater Manchester area."



Video surveillance played in the courtroom showed Read carrying a set of heavy speakers from a van into a property and also dancing energetically - dressed in suit and hat - with a female partner at one of his events.



When interviewed by the DWP, he initially denied any dishonesty and refused to comment on the surveillance.



He pleaded guilty last month on his scheduled trial date to failing to notify the change in circumstances.



David James, defending, said his client is still affected by arthritis and before the operation had essentially been unable to move his left leg.



He said the dance evenings were not a weekly event and Read went through the pain barrier as he suffered discomfort in the following days.



Read's love of swing music had led to him wanting to share his enthusiasm by playing tunes in care homes.



"He is a proud man who has been humbled by his fallibility," he said.



"His past was not a life, it was more of an existence.



"The interest in this case has been quite a significant punishment. It is difficult to walk and hold his head high now."



Minister for welfare reform Lord Freud said: "It's cases like these that show us why welfare reform is needed.



"We have a duty to the taxpayer and our customers to make sure that these vital benefits only go to those who need them.



"Benefit fraud takes money away from the most vulnerable. It is a crime and we are committed to stopping it by catching criminals at the frontline and making sure our reforms make the benefit system less open to abuse."

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