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Man sentenced for claiming benefits for incapacity while joining anti-fracking protests

|News, Fraud and economic crime

A man who was taking part in anti-fracking demonstrations while claiming benefits on the basis that he couldn’t travel without overwhelming psychological distress has been sentenced.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that John Knox, 33, from Kirkby on Merseyside, was playing an active and vigorous part in demonstrations around the fracking site on Preston New Road, Little Plumpton while claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

He was seen handcuffing himself to other demonstrators, equipment and fencing on a number of occasions and jumping down from the top of a lorry to the cheers of protestors after staging a 24 hour protest.

The CPS said Mr Knox’s behaviour was incompatible with the level of capability declared on his benefits application form.

On these he said that leaving the house and undertaking a journey would cause him overwhelming psychological distress and that he found it very difficult to be in open, crowded spaces.

His PIP was paid directly into his bank account and on the basis that he notified the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of any change in his circumstances which may affect his entitlement and on the basis that he had declared his true circumstances when he made his claim.

DWP investigators found evidence that John Knox failed to declare that his capabilities had improved and that he had been actively taking part in anti-fracking demonstrations, camping on a patch of land and demonstrating behaviour incompatible with his grant of benefits.

He was interviewed by investigators at Blackpool Town Hall on 4 June 2018 but made no comment to the allegations that he had failed to notify of a change in his circumstances.

In December 2018 he was charged with Dishonestly Failing to Notify a Change of Circumstances but pleaded Not Guilty. He was convicted after a three-day trial on 22 January 2020 at Preston Crown Court.

HHJ Jeffries at Preston Crown Court today (25 September 2020) sentenced John Knox and commented that the CCTV shown in the trial of Mr Knox jumping from a lorry to the jubilation of protestors must have led the jury to think they were looking at a different person than that described in the benefit claim forms.

Knox was given a 12-month Community Order and must complete a 35-day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement. He is also subject to an electronic curfew and cannot leave the house from 9pm to 6am for three months and two weeks.

Rob Girvan of CPS Mersey-Cheshire’s Fraud Unit said: “John Knox had taken part in extreme demonstrations at the fracking site at Little Plumpton in Lancashire.

“On one occasion he was seen jumping from a lorry after a 24-hour protest on top of it, to the cheering of his fellow protestors.

“His ability to be involved in all of this made a lie of his comments on his benefits claim forms that simply leaving the house was extremely daunting for him.

“As the judge said in his sentencing remarks, these benefits are badly needed by some of the most vulnerable people in our society and fraudulent claims undermine the system.

“The Crown Prosecution Service works with the DWP and the Police to tackle this fraud and protect the public purse.”

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