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Former Swanley Town Council leader Robert Woodbridge convicted of benefits fraud

A former Labour town council leader was exposed as a disability benefit cheat after falsely claiming he could walk “zero metres for zero minutes” because of severe pain.

Department of Work and Pensions investigators filmed Robert Woodbridge carrying out everyday tasks seemingly with ease.

On several occasions he was seen carrying items to his car, driving, walking up and down steep steps, pulled a trailer and even building a shed at his allotment.

Robert Woodbridge leaving court. Picture: IKMPixs
Robert Woodbridge leaving court. Picture: IKMPixs

Woodbridge, who later stood in elections for the Green Party and Liberal Democrats, denied dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances, claiming he had good days and bad days, but he was convicted by a jury in just 20 minutes.

The 58-year-old former Swanley Town Council leader, who suffered from inflammatory arthritis, claimed a higher rate of disability living allowance he was not entitled to, Maidstone Crown Court was told.

Prosecutor Edmund Fowler said Woodbridge initially made a legitimate claim for the allowance in 1997.

But after he renewed his claim in December 2013 he received a higher rate “care component” paid on the basis he needed help both day and night and a higher rate mobility component payable on the basis he was virtually unable to walk.

“We are not questioning the basis of his initial application,” said Mr Fowler. “This case is about what happened subsequently, because it came to light that his mobility and care needs had improved.

“He failed to declare a change of circumstances to the DWP, as required.”

As a result, he received an overpayment of £3,354 between August 12 2015 and January 26 last year.

Mr Fowler said Woodbridge’s renewal form stated a number of things that no longer applied.

“He said he could walk zero metres for zero minutes before feeling severe pain,” he told a jury of eight men and four women. “The pain started as soon as he got up and started walking.

“He used sticks to walk. He stumbled, tripped and fell often. His days were mostly the same as the pain was always there. He suffered pain in his knees and ankles when he walked and was unable to stand for long.

The case was heard at Maidstone Crown Court
The case was heard at Maidstone Crown Court

“The Crown say there was a change in those circumstances. He talks of aids, handrails on stairs, pain and discomfort in his wrists and knees, walking sticks to help walk in and out of doors.”

Woodbridge stated: “Pain and discomfort starts when I start walking as soon as I get up. Walking is extremely poor. I can only walk with the support of sticks. I have sharp pain in my knees and ankles which cause me to fall.”

He said he needed help to get up and to go to the toilet. He needed help seven days a week as the pain was always there. He could not get in and out of bed on his own and it took him about 15 minutes to get down the stairs.

Woodbridge, who attended council meetings twice a week, said he could not use the TV remote control.

Mr Fowler said when surveillance was carried out investigators saw Woodbridge appear to walk without a stick, crossing roads, climbing up to particular places and spending time apparently independently.

“It appears he was able to build a shed sawing and hammering while at his allotment, using his foot to steady a plank as he was sawing" -Edmund Fowler

In a film clip he was shown putting his walking stick into a wheelbarrow.

“It appears he was able to build a shed sawing and hammering while at his allotment, using his foot to steady a plank as he was sawing,” Mr Fowler told the jury of eight men and four women.

“You can see there was a very different set of circumstances to what was set out in that claim form, and when there is a change in circumstances there is a duty to inform the DWP.

“The duty is to give a prompt notification for any change. The Crown say the defendant acted dishonestly in all this.”

Woodbridge gave a prepared statement in which he claimed the severity of his pain fluctuated, and that some days he was immobile and others he could move.

But Mr Fowler added: “The Crown say it was rather convenient that on each day he was filmed he was having a good day.”

Woodbridge, of Garrolds Close, Swanley, was granted bail until sentence in the week beginning November 27.

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