Golfer guilty of benefit fraud

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A man who pocketed £26,000 in disability benefit while winning golf tournaments and playing off a handicap of six has been found guilty of fraud.

Alan Bannister claimed the higher rate disability living allowance between 2004 and 2012 after exaggerating the severity of his arthritis, Cardiff Crown Court heard .

The 56-year-old told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) he was in constant pain seven days a week and struggled to get dressed and even lift a saucepan. He also claimed it took him 15 minutes to walk 50 metres.

But secret video footage later emerged of the 56-year-old launching a 240-yard drive from the 1st tee before approaching the 18th hole four hours later.

His trial heard the former mechanical engineer made a claim for more benefits after he quit work on health grounds and saw his income halved.

As well as getting a benefit payment usually reserved for people who cannot walk, Bannister was given a car – which he drove to golf tournaments.

Today, a jury found Bannister guilty of obtaining money transfers by deception after making false representations.

Earlier in the day, prosecution counsel Stuart McLeese described the case against Bannister as straightforward.

He said: “If you were virtually unable to walk and in the position where walking 50 metres would take you 10 to 15 minutes, why would you even be a member of a golf club?

“Alan Bannister says it was not about money, but it was – this was a man with a mortgage who had his income halved in 2004 when he could no longer work due to ill health.

“He said he feels he did not have to notify the DWP of any changes … but in 2004 when he thought he could get a higher rate of disability living allowance, he notified the department of the changes.

“He’s been disingenuous and wholly dishonest.”

Bannister, of Barry, south Wales, said he had been advised to play golf by his doctors after being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis.

He had initially been given a lower rate of disability living allowance in 2002, but applied for the higher rate two years later when ill-health forced him to quit work.

On a claim form, he said his difficulties had got worse and he was in severe discomfort seven days a week – resulting in him needing help getting dressed and cooking food.

But that same year Bannister joined the 18-hole St Andrews Major Golf Club in Dinas Powys – and soon racked up some impressive scores on the course.

He won the club’s championship and also lifted a number of other trophies.

Bannister claimed he had “good days and bad days” and golf helped ease his pain.

In his evidence, he said: “I would have ended up in a wheelchair if I did not take up golf. I’m more exhausted not playing golf.

“Am I a freeloader? No.”

Bannister said nothing of his twice-weekly games of golf to the DWP, insisting he did not believe there was a change in his circumstances.

In 2012, the department was given an anonymous tip-off, prompting officials to film Bannister secretly during a competition match at St Andrews Major.

In footage shown to the jury, Bannister was seen holding a golf bag with one hand and appeared to have no trouble raising clubs above his head.

Prosecuting counsel Mr McLeese said if Bannister’s poor mobility claims had been true, it would have taken the defendant more than 18 hours to play a round of golf.

He added that the covert film footage showed Bannister finishing the 5,400-yard course in just over four hours.

In his closing address Mr McLeese added: “Does what he has said on the claim forms accord with what you are seeing in the video?

“Is this someone out for a leisurely stroll while playing a game of golf on a Saturday morning? Or is this a man virtually unable to walk?

“We accept that Mr Bannister has arthritis … and that things in life are not always black and white.

“But what is black and white is what he put on his claim forms.

“He misrepresented enormously his true capabilities. At no point did he write ‘Although it’s difficult, I can play a game of golf regularly and walk 5km’.”

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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