Benefit cheat was Lakes guide

A benefit cheat who claimed he could not go outdoors alone because of his medical condition was conducting guided walks in the Lake District, a court heard.

Appearing before Peterlee Magistrates' Court, Eric Alistair Wallace pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions about an improvement in his condition which affected his entitlement to disability living allowance.

This resulted in an overpayment of benefits of 8,804.75.

The court heard that Wallace, 53, was receiving disability living allowance between August 1995 and December 2006 on the basis that he needed supervision both indoors while cooking and outdoors because frequent epileptic seizures.

But officials found that his condition had improved from December 2003 to December 2006, after they found posts on the website of Berghaus Ltd which boasted of his outdoor adventures.

The court heard the website included posts detailing trips in 2004 and 2005 where Wallace was guiding groups of walkers on a climbing and hiking trip from Windermere to Kielder, a 10-hour relay race around Ben Nevis, and a trip from Whitehaven to Sunderland.

The court heard that his walks and routes were even published in book form.

Jonathan Moreland, prosecuting, said: "The defendant was interviewed under caution and asked about his medical condition.

"He admitted that his epilepsy had improved due to medication he was taking and it was under control.

"Initially it had only improved over a couple of months, but he admitted driving unaccompanied for two and a half years.

"He admitted going out unaccompanied for two to three years, and he had prepared his own meals for the last three years and had not had a seizure for three years."

The court heard that Wallace claimed in the interview that others had done the walks for him, and he had just set them out using ordnance survey maps.

Wallace, who was defending himself, said that the offence was down to his problems with alcohol.

He said: "Since the DWP interviewed me about this it's given me the shock I needed. I've lost my wife and family through drink and since being interviewed I've been 100 per cent sober. For the last 12 months I haven't touched a drink.

"I've managed to get full-time employment after hundreds of applications."

Wallace, of Waldridge Road, Chester-le-Street, was sentenced to a 12-month community order with a requirement of 150 hours' unpaid work. He was ordered to pay legal costs of 150.

He will have to pay back the 8,804.75 in overpayments through the DWP.