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One-legged man falsely accused of benefit fiddle after officials examined the wrong leg

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: August 21, 2013

  • Robert Punter has undergone a nightmare year of anxiety after being taken to court by benefits officials who told him he was not disabled enough to claim the allowance even though he was having his leg amputated

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A one-legged man was falsely accused of fiddling disability benefit after officials examined his wrong leg.

Robert Punter has undergone a nightmare year of anxiety after being taken to court by benefits officials who told him he was not disabled enough to claim the allowance even though he was having his leg amputated.

The mix up occurred because the 63-year-old ex trucker, whose left leg was shattered in a boyhood shotgun accident, also suffered a serious toe injury in his right foot.

He was prosecuted when officials found a letter in his medical file showing he had made a full recovery from this operation and accused him of lying about his condition.

He is angry that he has been treated as a dole fiddler despite battling to overcome his disability and working for 47 years, often in excruciating pain.

Robert, of Bushell Road, Newton Abbot, spent months waiting for his case to be heard at Exeter Crown Court before it was thrown out in less than five minutes.

He denied falsely claiming disability living allowance and Judge Francis Gilbert, QC, recorded not guilty verdicts after Miss Emily Pitts offered no evidence on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions.

He was wheeled into court by his wife Jean with a white bandage covering the stump of his left leg, which was amputated in January. The judge allowed him to remain in the well of the court because he could not get into the dock.

The case was dropped after defence solicitor Miss Ann Bellchambers obtained a statement from Torbay Hospital consultant Mr Patrick Loxdale confirming that Robert had always suffered from a disability which entitled him to benefit.

The consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Torbay Hospital who wrote to Exeter Crown Court about Robert Punter said the prosecution was 'barking mad'.

Patrick Loxdale, who amputated the 63 year old's lower left leg earlier this year, wrote a letter about his medical history to his solicitor.

In it he said:"Robert Punter suffered a devastating injury to his left leg at the age of 12 and was lucky not to lose his leg.

"When I first me I was amazed to hear that he'd held a job down as a tipper driver for many years up until the age of 63, with plans to continue working until retirement age of 65.

"It was quite clear to me that he was a highly stoical individual who had minimised very significant orthopaedic problems in his left leg. I have witnessed over the years many patients with far more trivial problems who have gone to long lengths to maximise their symptoms so as to claim various benefits.

"The problem with his right foot in the late 1990s was largely co-incidental to the left leg issues in my opinion, but whilst he was undergoing surgical treatment for that his mobility would have been compromised further.

"However, even when his right foot had resolved successfully he had been left with major ongoing symptoms in his left leg, including loss of active movement, the likelihood of constant moderate to severe pain, potential difficulty with footwear and certainly limitation of walking distance.

"Clearly I don't have details of the prosecution case against Robert Punter but I can say without any shadow of doubt that this man coped with a very severe left leg injury from the age of 12 to 63, holding down a physically demanding job and , in my view, tolerating a great deal of pain and incapacity in the process.

"However, as someone who generally takes a relatively robust attitude to some patients' desires to claim benefits, I find the fact that Robert Punter is being pursued completely bizarre to the point of being barking mad.

"This, in my opinion, is a highly genuine man with an extremely significant orthopaedic problem who is actually an example of somebody who's got on with their life and held down a job under extremely difficult circumstances."

A Department of Work and Pensions spokeswoman said:"We cannot comment on individual cases.

"In this case the defendant's health deteriorated as the case was being progressed. In light of his deteriorating health it was not in the public interest for this case to continue."

She said she could not comment on the consultant's remarks and said it was a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision to review the case in court and offer no evidence.

She added:"Our fraud investigators present the best evidence possible, however, ultimately it's for the CPS to decide whether a prosecution goes ahead for benefit fraud. If an overpayment is suspected then we will seek to recover that as a civil matter."

Yesterday Mr Punter said from his home that he had been paid £28,000 over 12 years in disability allowance.

He said:"The DWP wanted me to pay back the money. It has been an absolute nightmare for my wife and me. The DWP were doing all this as I was having my leg off in February. I have been working since I was 15 and used to wear callipers and use crutches."

After the case Robert explained that the case arose from a simple misunderstanding.

His claim for disability benefits was based on the long standing injury to his left leg, which had eventually led to the amputation.

The Department of Work and Pensions prosecuted him on the basis that he had claimed benefits in relation to the injury to his right foot, which had been treated successful and healed.

He said:”This whole business has been a nightmare. I have been taken to court and accused of swinging the lead when the truth was the opposite.

“I suffered a very serious injury to my left leg in a shotgun accident when I was 12. At one stage it was touch and go whether I would survive.

“I never used it as an excuse not to work. I started in the old Leathercraft factory in Newton Abbot when I was 15 and then drove dumpers and tippers on building sites until I passed my HGV and became a lorry driver.

“I did that for 40 years until I suffered arthritis in my right foot which led eventually to me having an operation to fuse my toe.

“It was while I was in hospital I met someone from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau who told me I was entitled to disability allowance even though I was planning to go back to work.

“After I was called in for interview and told I would be prosecuted my wife took photos of my left leg and sent them to the DWP but it made no difference.

“At the same time as this case was going through the system I was in a lot of pain from the left leg and went back to hospital where Mr Loxdale told me I had degenerative bone disease and would need an amputation.

“It took months to persuade them that I am disabled but in the end they only restored my benefit after my left leg was amputated above the knee.”

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  • JorgeBen  |  August 23 2013, 3:10AM

    Mooksamog - Are you seriously suggesting that someone in the grip of major alcoholism or drug addiction is not suffering from a serious illness that affects their ability to function normally? I assume you have some level of medical expertise on which to base that belief - in which case I urge you to show your colleagues the earth-shattering research that turns conventional medical opinion on its head. Or maybe I've got it wrong and you really are ill-informed enough to believe that your common-or-garden five-pints-a-night merchant is routinely sauntering up to the DWP office and receiving vast amounts of benefit without any independent medical evidence as to his suitability for work. The reality is that people receiving benefit for this reason are the minority of serious addicts who are genuinely ill and could not remotely be capable of work. I appreciate that addiction could be described as self-inflicted, but then manifestations of mental illness often are. After all, suicide and self-harm are also self-inflicted. A self-inflicted illness is not always something the sufferer enters into voluntarily. Do you really believe that those caught in the grip of serious alcoholism, who suffer agonising physical damage as a result, but who nevertheless can't stop drinking would not do anything to be free from the addiction? Do you think George Best continued to drink merely because he thought it was all a bit of a lark, despite antabuse implants that made him violently ill when he drank and who killed himself by drinking even after undergoing a liver transplant? Do you not think that he tried every form of therapy under the sun to no avail, just as many other seriously ill alcoholics do? (Never mind - I bet hecould have stopped if he REALLY wanted to eh?) There are many physical illnesses that are self-inflcited and that no compassionate person would suggest should be ineligible for disability benefit. (Or perhaps I'm wrong in that belief? Do you think that those suffering from lung cancer or emphysema due to smoking, or bowel cancer due to poor diet should be denied benefit? Given the current climate I'm almost afraid to hear the answer). The sort of people who claim for addiction are usually individuals exactly like George Best. In fact their claims are often partly based on the serious medical problems their addiction causes. The fact is that the DWP statistics only refer to the primary reason for the benefit being awarded - i.e addiction. They do not show any associated physical problems relevant to eligibility for benefit no matter how serious. Unsurprisingly this is used by the anti-disabled brigade as another opportunity to twist the truth. Roughly 80'000 people claim for alcoholism and drug addiction out of the 2 million claiming disability benefits. That represents around a tenth of one percent of the UK population. I venture to suggest that this figure does not square with your claim that hordes of mere problem drinkers are living the life of Riley on handouts provide by the poor beknighted taxpayer. Of course some people claim fraudulently, but even the Government's own ill-publicised evidence - as opposed to the propaganda they shout from the rooftops - suggests that they are a very small percentage. The figure certainly doesn't justify the lurid stories and furious indignation that are so depressingly commonplace these days. In any enterprise there will always be some level of fraud, or dishonesty - whether it is large companies avoiding amounts of tax that dwarf the benefits bill, or banks using Government handouts to pay large bonuses (not to mention the routine acts of minor dishonesty that a great many people commit at one time or another). Why is it considered unfair for the majority to be punished for the crimes of the minority in these cases, but perfectly fair when the majority are the disabled? Like I said, shame on us all.

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  • JorgeBen  |  August 23 2013, 1:55AM

    How predictable that the disability-bashers fail to answer a single substantive point I made and retreat into yet more ill-informed propaganda. I wonder what will be the next Daily Mail canard about benefits they regurgitate? The mendacious story about vast numbers claiming benefit for "bad backs" perhaps? I expect they'll fail to mention that the Daily Mail glossed over the fact that the report they used referred to those in a DWP survey suffering from "musculo-skeletal disorders" such as Spina Bifida - which I suppose could be spun as a "bad back" if you really want to be that vindictive. Of course if you look at the DWP report containing the figure of 40% for those dropping their claim before the Work Capability Assessment required for Employment and Support Allowance becomes due, you find that Trollope's insinuation - i.e that the reason for claims not being continued is because the applications were all from workshy scroungers who weren't really ill at and didn't want to be found out - is a complete distortion of the truth. The fact is that a large proportion of the dropped claims are due to simple churn -i.e those who were receiving ESA for short-term conditions that resolved themselves before the WCA became due. I wouldn't expect those who swallow the anti-disability benefits propaganda to know anything about the truth of the benefits system, so I will make what will probably be a futile attempt to enlighten them. Those who are employed (i.e not self-employed or on Jobseekers Allowance) and who earn more than a certain amount (something in the region of £100 a week) can claim Statutory Sick Pay if they contract a short-term condition that prevents them working. Everyone else must claim Employment Support Allowance from the outset, initially on the basis of doctor's sick notes (now called "fit notes" in suitably Orwellian fashion). Therefore if they have a short-term illness their claim will obviously not be pursued beyond the point at which they recover. If this is before the WCA is carried out then hey presto - dropped claim, after which this statistc is mendacioulsy attributed to "benefit fraud" by the bash-the-sick-and-disabled brigade Of course there are also cases of extremely vunerable people who have no support from family or friends, who are not in a fit mental state to seek third-party help on their own, and who find the prospect of the dishonest medical and extremely harsh tests terrifying and are consequently too overwhelmed to pursue a claim. Ask any CAB advisor or mental health professional if you don't believe me. (I would remind you that a large proportion of street-sleepers are mentally ill). These individuals are also included in the propaganda attack-list as yet more workshy scroungers. Here's a thought - instead of cheerleading the anti-disabled lynch-mob, who foam at the mouth in a perverted and misguided kind of envy every time the truth about benefits is twisted into dishonest propaganda by the Coalition and the right-wing press, why don't you research the issue for yourself? Discover how every single disability organisation bar none - from MIND to Disability Now - lambasts the current system as cruel and unfair. Listen to the ATOS doctors who have resigned in disgust at the corrupt process and heed the similar protests of the Royal College Of Psychiatrists and the BMA. Educate yourself about those who have died from their conditions after being denied benefit and the tragic cases of suicide among the mentally ill who have had their claims turned down. Speak to CAB advisors about the many shocking cases they have dealt with, including cases of ATOS assessors (who are often not even doctors, but nurses with no knowledge of the conditions they are assessing) being found to have doctored reports or ignored medical evidence, then tell me the process does not shame us all. Don't take my word for it- it's all out there if you care to lo

    |   6
  • itar5127  |  August 22 2013, 3:58AM

    One way out - pay ATOS the percentage of success - so if 70% are successful on appeal, then they only get 30% of the set rate. That will increase their accuracy overnight, especially if bonuses are pegged at the 98% correct rate, and this rate exists for 1 year from point of assessment, set in August, assessed year round April-April.

    |   3
  • GAWker  |  August 21 2013, 6:27PM

    If they carry on making mistakes like that they could find themselves getting headhunted by Devon & Cornwall police.

    |   6
  • Trollope  |  August 21 2013, 5:18PM

    When the suitability for work tests were introduced 40% of people claiming incapacity benefits didn't bother to have the tests and just signed off incapacity benefit and went back onto the lower job seekers allowance payments. Tells you everything you need to know about 'the shame of the nation.' The shame of the nation are not hard working tax payers or genuine cases.

    |   -19
  • Mookamookadog  |  August 21 2013, 5:05PM

    Throwing hard earned tax payers money at drug addicts and alcoholics in increased incapacity benefit payments, the extra money they use for drugs and alcohol, because if they actually cleaned up their act they would be back on lower job seeker benefits BRINGS SHAME ON US ALL. It is nothing less than euthanasia by Government handout. The Benefit junkies and the liberal lefr seem happy with this.

    |   -23
  • JorgeBen  |  August 21 2013, 4:55PM

    Brixham Des, Your comment is more accurate than you realise. Consider the case of my own brother. Having worked like a dog at his profession (graphic design) for 27 years and rising to Creative director of a major agency, he was struck down by bipolar disorder and sectioned after a manic episode. Even so he refused to claim benefit, largely due to the stigma and shame the vindictive sections of the population have created around benefit. About a year after he was discharged (but still suffering episodes) he was diagnosed with an arthritic condition that will eventually require two major knee operations. After the first knee was operated on he spent some time in a wheelchair (which helped us get a great seat at the Olympics by the way) and to this day is on crutches and unable to climb stairs or walk any great distance. Having reached a critical point in his finances he eventually was forced to claim benefit. Unfortunately he was stupid enough to trust the process and so failed to take an advocate to his assessment. He actually was asked to raise his hands above his head during the assessment - and guess what? That's right - he was denied benefit, despite suffering from not one, but TWO serious conditions. The benefit was subsequently awarded on appeal, but of course the stress and hardship he experience was considerable. If the claimant bashers care to properly research what is going on, instead of believeing the propaganda, they will see that this is far from an isolated example. I'm afraid the whole process is a nasty and corrupt affair that panders to our worst instincts and brings shame on us all.

    |   18
  • JorgeBen  |  August 21 2013, 4:39PM

    Trollope's comments are completely false. There is ample prima facie evidence that the Government are using the ill-informed and hysterical propaganda that has been whipped up against benefit claimants by the likes of the Daily Mail and the Government itself to harrass and attack disabled claimants. We have seen three absurd cases in the Echo alone in a relatively short period of time and only today the former ATOS doctor who resigned in protest at the borderline corrupt practices of ATOS and who appeared on the BBC news is interviewed in the Daily Mirror blowing the whistle on practices that bring shame on our society. If the assessment process is fair then why are 70% of appeals where an advocate accompanies the appellant upheld? This is a level of failure that cannot simply be explained away as the consequence of clerical error. Should the claimant bashers care to research the topic they will find numerous cases where the ATOS assessors were found to have blatantly misrepresented claimants' condition and medical evidence. This all suggests a systematic and surreptitous attempt to remove benefit from deserving cases. Of course this process has been made much easier by the disinformation I referred to earlier, which has created widely believed myths. The likes of Ian Duncan Smith - and Chris Grayling before him - have been only too eager to pander to the subsequent misguided public indignation . Prior to the current climate of wild exaggeration about the extent of benefit fraud, instigated by the right-wing press and governments of both stripes (the pernicious ATOS were actually commisioned by New Labour) the DWP'S OWN SURVEY put benefit fraud as less than 5%. Of course everyone and his wife claims to know somebody "on the fiddle" - in reality those accused often have perfectly legitimate illnesses that are either not immediately apparent or are intermittent in nature. A recent report on the "shop a scrounger" telephone lines demonstrated that the great majority of accusations received proved unfounded. If the Government and the claimant bashing section of the population are seriously interested in "fairness" - as opposed to thiny disguised vindictiveness - then the assessments should be brought back in-house and ATOS ditched. When you consider that their parent compnay was lambasted by the US Congress as operating, "disability denial factories" you might understand why paralympic athletes protested against ATOS' sponsorhip of the Olympic games. At the very least the payment ATOS get for each claimant that returns to work should be abolished. This provides a clear incentive to fail claimants - it is self evident that there is no chance of ATOS receiving an eventual bounty for a claimant who is awarded benefit. Clearly the process is compromised from the beginning. I ask those keen to turn the screw on the disabled how they would react if the doctors conducting themedical checks required for their life insurance policies or their eligibility for a particular profession were paid a bonus for every applicant disqualified? Finally, the idea that employers have a "quota" of disabled they must employ is completely bogus. In reality as much as 7 out of 10 employers surveyed have said they would not consider a disabled person for employment. The figure is even higher for those who have or have suffered from a serious mental illness - ironically mental health conditions are precisely the sort of invisible and intermittent illnesses that make sufferers the prime targets for unfounded and hysterical accusations of "scrounging" Scrap the ATOS bounty hunters, scrap the misinformation peddled by the right-wing press and the Coalition and scrap the scapegoating of all claimants for the crimes of a very few. Maybe then we will return to a compassionate society that is truly fair for all.

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  • Mookamookadog  |  August 21 2013, 3:44PM

    Seems to be a rare example of our justice system working. For once.

    |   12
  • Sinjis_Things  |  August 21 2013, 12:41PM

    whaaaaat says companies are crying out for "disabled people to work for them to fill their quota" all they have to do is employ them. Unfortunately they don't, and neither are they looking for disabled people to work for them which is why 70% of disabled people who could work are unemployed and Britain is one of the worst countries at employing disabled people and under the current political regime the situation getting worse.