Off-sick sprinter Matthew Thomas guilty of cheating employer

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The Independent Online

A sprinter who took part in national athletics competitions and was paid to coach youngsters while off work with a bad back was today found guilty of defrauding his employers.

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

Prosecutors said he received £13,892.12 while off work between November 2007 and June 2008, when he resigned from his post.

But during this time Thomas, from East Ham, east London, raced in the Birmingham Athletic Games and took part in the Surrey County Indoor Championships.

He also led regular coaching sessions for Met-Track - an athletics scheme set up by the Metropolitan Police.

This afternoon a jury of five men and seven women at Inner London Crown Court found him guilty of six counts of fraud by false representation after he submitted sick notes claiming he was unfit to work.

Rebecca Channon, prosecuting, said the case showed "two sides" of Thomas, who had been employed by the council since 1998.

"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, who denied all the charges, was cleared of three counts of fraud by false representation and one count of fraud by failing to disclose information relating to his athletics coaching.

During his trial, jurors were shown video footage of the defendant racing while signed off work.

He was caught on camera training youngsters at Croydon athletics track in April 2008 and was filmed again in May 2008 as he practised sprints at Crystal Palace.

During this period, he claimed he had difficulty performing everyday activities.

In interview he said he was having difficulty sitting down for long periods but insisted his injury had little or no effect on his ability to work as an athletics coach or to participate in athletics events.

But he said his back problem did not allow him to carry out his role as a payroll officer.

Thomas, who insisted he had never acted in a dishonest fashion, claimed he took part in the races so he could obtain free physiotherapy.

He will be sentenced on September 30.