VIDEO: Suspended sentence for bus driver who claimed £27,000 disability benefits
A FORMER bus driver who claimed he had a spinal disease but was secretly filmed walking and driving around the city has been handed a suspended prison sentence.
Patrick Wildman, 47, pocketed more than £27,000 over seven years after telling the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that he was in "constant pain" and could not walk without a stick or support from someone else.
However, after being found guilty at Plymouth Crown Court by a jury, he was sentenced to 36 weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years for failing to notify a change of circumstances that would affect his benefit claim.
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In mitigation, Jason Beale said Wildman, of Blandford Road, Efford, had begun his claim in the late 1990s and did not get his first job until 2002.
During his trial, the jury heard Wildman had worked for a company delivering papers, often in bulk, from January 2004 until October 2006, and then as a bus driver from January 2007 and Many 2010.
As a result, prosecutors said Wildman was paid £27,626.85 to which he was not entitled.
Mr Beale said the case "was not that he was faking the illness, but that his mobility needs were not properly declared. It has not been the case that the prosecution said that [he] was not ill".
He said Wildman, who appeared in court in a wheelchair, had since undergone MRI scans which had found there had been "considerable degeneration" to his spine.
He said Wildman's health had not got any better since he was covertly filmed in November 2009.
Mr Beale said the latest documentation proved Wildman's heath had "deteriorated considerably".
Wildman was paying back the money by way of benefit deduction, at a rate of £30 a week.
Judge Paul Darlow said the case had taken longer to come to its end as Wildman had "contested the matter" and as such there was no credit.
He said Wildman came before the court "with a poor record" noting records showed how in 1995 he was convicted of making a false statement to obtain benefit or social security.
He accepted Wildman's claim was "not fraudulent from the outset" and that he now suffered a "debilitating medical condition".
He also noted how Wildman would now have to repay the amount, although Judge Darlow questioned if he would ever "get to the end" of the amount owed.