Thirty-six-year-old Paul O’Keefe (pictured outside Swansea Magistrates Court) sued the World Rugby Union after breaking his neck during an amateur rugby game
A former rugby player who sued the World Rugby Union after breaking his neck during an amateur rugby game has admitted to swindling more than £31,000 in welfare benefits.
Crooked Paul O’Keefe was temporarily paralysed after he suffered a crunching tackle while captaining his local team, the Aberavon Green Stars, against Abercrave in 2000.
O’Keefe suffered serious brain injuries and damage to his spinal cord in the neck and back.
He was just 18 at the time.
The hooker spent three months recovering in Morriston Hospital’s rehabilitation ward.
He was confined to a wheelchair for six months – and had to give up his planned career as a carpenter.
In 2004 he made a claim of £90,000 against the WRU and its insurers Norwich Union.
He also began to receive disability benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions.
But Swansea Magistrates’ Court heard the 36-year-old had failed to notify the DWP when his health improved.
He was able to return to work but failed to alert the department to his chance in circumstances – for nine years.
This lead to an overpayment of £31,817 between July 2007 and April 2016 in disability payments.
O’Keefe pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting entitlement to social security.
Sentencing, chairman of magistrates Roslyn Evans told him: ‘You have caused us a bit of a dilemma.
‘We have found this offence so serious it crosses the custody threshold. We are therefore sentencing you to 16 weeks in custody.
‘However, we will suspend that for 12 months.
He has admitted to swindling more than £31,000 in welfare benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions over a nine year period
‘I would like to think you will never have to come into a court room again and you have learnt a very hard lesson.’
He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work, and pay £200 in court costs and surcharge.
Prosecuting, Lisa Jones said that from 2007 and 2012 O’Keefe, of Manor Street in Port Talbot, went back to work.
He was employed by a company called Celtic Sports Signs, after which he worked for a company called Harsco Metals.
She added: ‘He knew he was to report any improvement in his circumstances.
‘It is clear on the documentation any changes in circumstances have to be declared.’
She added he had begun repaying the overpayment to the tune of £820.
Mitigating, Christopher Pridham told the court O’Keefe was of previous good character, and added: ‘This was a genuine claim from the outset.
O’Keefe was sentenced to 16 weeks in custody suspended for 12 months and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work
‘This is a gentleman who has suffered for the majority of his adult life after suffering a serious rugby injury in which he fractured vertebrae, broke his neck and had a significant head injury.
‘He continues to take medication and has been told the symptoms will be indefinite.
‘He accepts in hindsight when he returned to work his condition had improved, but disputes whether it improved significantly.
‘He is someone not content to sit at home and have additional benefits, which he could have.
‘But it was a major error failing to engage with the Job Centre, which encouraged him to go back to work.
He thought information would have been shared with the the DWP, but now realises it was his responsibility.’
He added O’Keefe was a respected member of the work force, and a responsible parent to a six-year-old daughter who lived with his former partner, and that a custodial sentence would mean their ‘stream of income’ would suffer.