'Disabled' marathon runner jailed for benefit fraud

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A marathon runner who dishonestly claimed more than £22,000 in disability benefits was jailed for 10 months today.

Paul Appleby, of Park Street, Kirkby in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, admitted one count of failing to notify a change in circumstance between 2001 and January 2005 at Nottingham Crown Court.

The 47-year-old regularly ran half and full marathons after joining the Sutton Harriers Athletic Running Club in 2001.

He claimed on benefit application forms that he was unable to walk without the use of two walking sticks or a frame, and was largely confined to a wheelchair.

Passing sentence, Judge David Price told Appleby: "You were clearly fit enough to work and I am satisfied that you would not have been entitled to any benefits."

The court heard that Appleby, a former coal miner, made a legitimate claim for disability living allowance in March 1994, when he was forced to give up work with a back injury.

He told officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that he was unable to walk more than 55 yards in five minutes and needed help with his feeding, personal toilet and any outdoor activity.

He was, however, recovered enough by 2001 to join the running club and register himself as an endurance runner with the Midland Counties Athletics Association.

There was, prosecutor Ben Mills told the court, nothing put on the application forms to suggest he had a disability.

"By 2001 he was running 10km races, representing the Sutton Harriers," Mr Mills said.

"He was running half marathons and full marathons. In 2002 he ran the London Marathon, all the while claiming disability allowance off the state."

According to the Sutton Harriers' website, Appleby is recorded as finishing the 2005 London Marathon in three hours and 37 minutes.

In 2004, when he was still in receipt of state handouts, he completed the same race in just three hours and 35 minutes.

He was also running half marathons in around one hour 37 minutes.

Mr Mills said the DWP started investigating Appleby in 2005, secretly filming him warming up for races and running with the athletics club.

"No changes were reported to the department because, of course, the allowance would stop," the prosecutor said.

Appleby was first interviewed by the DWP in September 2005, when he admitted joining the running club and agreed that by doing so there was a " massive change" in his circumstances.

"He also admitted he didn't deserve benefits," Mr Mills added.

The court heard that Appleby, who has one previous conviction for dishonesty, told investigators that he didn't report the change in his health because he "didn't think it was a problem", meaning he was able to pocket a total of £22,309.06 over a four-year period.

Sarah Munro, defending, told the court that all money raised by Appleby when he competed in marathons was given to charity, including sizeable donations to the Marie Curie Cancer Trust.

She said his original claim was genuine, but he continued to claim, instead of finding work, because it enabled him to care for his wife - who suffers from depression - and train for races.

"He does concede that what he did was wrong," Miss Munro said.

Passing sentence Judge Price accused Appleby of "blatant dishonesty".

He said: "In order to claim the allowance you said you could only walk with difficulty, you needed crutches and a wheelchair. You also said you needed help with your personal toilet.

"We know now that in 2001 you were a member of a running club. You regularly ran long distance races.

"In 2002 you completed the London Marathon. You still continued to make claims for disability allowance.

"While you received that allowance you were clearly fit enough to work.

"Your offending amounted to blatant dishonesty and that is the sort of dishonesty that affects every tax payer in this country.

"They funded, what must have been for you, a very pleasant lifestyle.

"You clearly found a lot of time to run and one wonders how much time you did devote to your wife."

Judge Price adjourned a confiscation hearing until March 22.

The Government's anti-fraud minister James Plaskitt said after the hearing: "This case sends a stark warning to anyone committing benefit fraud - do it and you could face a criminal record."