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Benefit fraud was used to treat friends

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 17, 2014

By JEFF WELLS

wdnews@b-nm.co.uk

Michael McKenzie was a familiar sight in Bristol, trundling around on his electric scooter. He said he needed 24-hour care for a plethora of medical ailments and was so immobile he needed help even to use the toilet.

So vigorous was his call for help with care he fought for and received £183,000 from Bristol City Council over three years.

But when suspicions were raised about the amount of money he was receiving, investigators armed with a camcorder put him under surveillance and filmed him dog walking, heaving a rug from his car and returning with a duvet from a trip to the launderette.

What emerged was that the 62-year-old was drawing the money supposedly for carers, when actually the money was used to treat a predominantly male group of friends and buy their friendship, Bristol Crown Court heard.

McKenzie, of Tregarth Road, Ashton Vale, pleaded guilty to benefit fraud between 2008 and 2011. Earlier he was found guilty of sexual assault, but admitted breaches of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

Jailing him for four years, Judge Michael Longman told him: "You are somebody not in the best of physical health. You exaggerated your needs and you made a claim for money for care for which you are not entitled. The money was paid. It was an excess borne by the taxpayer over a number of years, a dishonest claim that resulted in payments and loss of more than £150,000. The direct benefit to you was for the companionship of others rather than direct financial gain to you personally."

The SOPO was continued and McKenzie was told to register as a sex offender indefinitely. McKenzie, who attended court on his electric scooter, remained expressionless as court security staff helped him to the cells. One of his friends drove the scooter from court.

Stephen Mooney, prosecuting, said the sexual assault involved McKenzie committing a sex act on a sleeping man, but stopping immediately when the man protested. Mr Mooney said convicted sex offender McKenzie was previously handed a SOPO, banning him from contact with youngsters, but had breached that by treating a family with a girl aged 13 and a boy aged 12 to meals and a museum trip.

He also gave two 13-year-old lads a lift in his car and the mother of one lad, who knew about his background, warned him he could get into trouble.

Mr Mooney said McKenzie successfully applied for Direct Payment for Community Care from Bristol City Council, a benefit intended for people who are so infirm they require the assistance of others for day-to-day living.

He told the court: "In reality he required no care at all. He was manufacturing infirmity to fund his and others' lifestyle. Any assertion he made to Bristol City Council was manifestly untrue. The evidence is this was a man who was devious, manipulative and dishonest and he intended to get as much away from the state as he could. He gave the impression he was virtually incapable of leading a normal life at all."

The court heard McKenzie told the council needed help with: prompting to take medication, washing, shaving and using the toilet, care during the night due to coughing fits, cleaning and changing the bed, and all meals. Because McKenzie said he didn't want strangers in his house he nominated young men to look after him, the court heard.

Money was paid into his account at Bristol Credit Union and he was trusted to pay on money to his stated carers.

It was the Crown's case that one man, who admitted giving the impression he was a carer when health professional visited, actually gave no care and received between £40,000 and £69,000.

Other men, and some women, received varying sums, Mr Mooney said.

The judge was shown surveillance footage of McKenzie seemingly in "extremely good health" outside his home.

Mr Mooney said though the defendant didn't need to use an electric scooter he used one as a badge to show his supposed significant infirmity.

McKenzie told investigators he suffered from a variety of conditions and answered no further questions.

Simon Goodman, defending, described the sex assault as an isolated incident and stressed there was no evidence of sexual grooming in the SOPO breaches.

He said: "He genuinely had serious medical problems, both physically and with mental health. He had been detained under the Mental Health Act in the past. He clearly has serious heart problems.

"Ironically he may hay have been entitled to significant benefits and there is an Appeal regarding Disability Living Allowance."

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