Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 12:27 UK

Benefit fraud football ref guilty


Keith McNiffe was secretly filmed by the Department of Work and Pensions

A football referee and linesman who had officiated in 67 matches while claiming mobility and care allowances has been warned he may be jailed.

Keith McNiffe, 49, who last month stood aside as mayor of Pembroke, admitted two charges of illegally obtaining benefit amounting to 9,233.

Haverfordwest magistrates were told he had passed a fitness test which saw him run 2,400m in less than 12 minutes.

McNiffe was secretly filmed running the line at a match by officials.

Sentencing was adjourned until next month.

Prosecuting, Sharon Knox, told the court that McNiffe had been claiming both mobility and care allowances at the higher rate since he suffered medical problems in 2002.

But the Department of Work and Pensions was tipped off that he had been refereeing at football matches for the Welsh football league and the West Wales Football Association.

On 24 March 2007, investigators secretly filmed McNiffe as a linesman during a match.

Ms Knox said he officiated for the whole 90 minutes and "was witnessed running and walking along the full length of the football field."

Keith McNiffe
Keith McNiffe stood down as town mayor in Pembroke. Photo: Creative Looks

Subsequent checks with the West Wales FA found that during the 2005-2006 season he had officiated in 34 matches. The following season, he officiated at 33.

In February 2007 he underwent a West Wales FA fitness assessment.

As well as running the 2,400m, he also completed two 200m runs in under 32 seconds each and also two 50m sprints in less than eight seconds each.

McNiffe claimed a higher rate of mobility allowance, which is paid to people who can't walk at all or are unable to walk for more than short distances.

The care rate is paid to only those who need help with personal bodily functions, day and night, the court was told.

In mitigation, Shaun Dyer, defending, told the court McNiffe had been receipt of benefits since 2002.

He had had a thyroid gland removed after the discovery of a growth and this had led his weight to increase by 12 stones. He had an emergency operation to remove his stomach and following this, had been told by doctors to increase his weight loss regime.

"He accepts he undertook work as a referee but it was part of the medical advice that he was given," said Mr Dyer.

Adjourning sentence to 19 May, magistrates asked for a pre-sentence report and said they had not ruled out custody as an option.

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