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'Virtually unable to walk' martial arts instructor guilty of pounds 11k benefits fraud; Leisure centre classes were watched by fraud investigator.

Byline: Matt Nicholls

A MARTIAL arts instructor has been convicted of dishonestly claiming more than pounds 11,000 in disability benefits.

Adrian Blayney, of Neath, denied failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions of a change in his circumstances between April 2003 and December 2006, but was convicted after a trial.

Magistrates heard the 49-year-old black belt had been running Choi Kwang Do sessions in Aberdare and Neath, despite suffering back pain caused by an accident at work in 2001. He had suffered a heart attack the following year, was taking daily medication and suffers regular anxiety attacks.

"The pain is with me constantly," Blayney told the court.

But following an anonymous tip-off, DWP fraud investigator David Williams watched him conducting classes at the Michael Sobell leisure centre in Aberdare on two occasions in November 2006.

He told the court in Neath he had observed the classes taking place through a glass panel in the door. He said he had watched for 15 minutes on each occasion and that he had seen Blayney" utilising his arms and legs and twisting his body" as he taught his students.

He said it had not been considered appropriate to use video surveillance because there were children attending the classes.

Blayney was interviewed by the department in January 2007 and admitted his condition had "improved"

Since he first began claiming disability living allowance.

Claire Templeman, prosecuting, said this would have affected his entitlement to benefits.

He had been claiming the allowance's mobility component at the highest possible level, which, she said, would normally indicate that the claimant was "unable to walk or virtually unable to walk".

Blayney also said in interview he had planned to stop his claim that month because his classes had started to turn a profit.

Following the DWP investigation, Blayney's benefit entitlement was with drawn.

He has since appealed unsuccessfully and the court was told he will be challenging this ruling.

Giving evidence to the court, Blayney said he could not walk more than 50 metres without "severe pain" and was on the waiting list to seeapain specialist at the Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli.

He said he had been one of several instructors on duty at the classes. "There was always other instructors there," he said.

"I would show them how to do hand grabs, or show them where the pressure points were. Small hand movements, that sort of thing - close range techniques that didn't involve large movements or sudden movements."

When Ms Templeman suggested he would have to be in "tip-top physical condition" to teach the classes, he replied: "You haven't.

"I've got one student who's 68 who's riddled with arthritis.

"You've got martial arts coaches that are in wheelchairs, you've got martial arts coaches that can't walk - but they can still teach."

He admitted he had not mentioned his martial arts classes on his benefit application form. "If there had been a question about it, I would have said. I would have wrote down that I was a martial arts instructor."

He had said in interview that his condition had improved, but added he had been "under duress" and without legal representation. "I was really, really nervous going along to that interview. I would have answered any questions. I agreed to things that weren't fact."

Simon Howells, for Blayney, said the evidence presented by the DWP did not prove the offence beyond reasonable doubt.

"There is no CCTV film evidence to consider," he said. "It is a major weakness in the prosecution case that it rests very heavily indeed upon what they themselves describe as being preliminary observations by a gentleman who has no specialist knowledge whatsoever about martial arts, or specifically Choi Kwang Do."

Blayney, of Pen y Bryn, Cimla, Neath, was given a community order requiring him to be supervised by probation for 15months.Hewas also ordered to pay pounds 250 court costs. The DWP are looking to reclaim the benefits he received.

Outside court, Delmie Jones, fraud manager for the DWP's Swansea unit, said: "This is a result. It shows we're acting on information received from the public and we're investigating in a professional manner. We can safely say we're closing on people who are abusing the system."

CAPTION(S):

CONVICTED: Adrian Blayney
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 30, 2008
Words:711
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