O'Driscoll/Hardwick Saints and Scroungers


O'Driscoll/Hardwick

Series looking at benefit fraud. The net closes in on a fantasist who swindled the state out of over 40,000 pounds by forging documents and weaving a web of lies.


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Transcript


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What makes this country great is we give money to people who need it.

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But wherever there's money, people want to steal it.

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Welcome to the world of Saints & Scroungers.

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'Saints & Scroungers puts the spotlight on benefit thieves

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'who ruthlessly steal millions every year from the tax payer,

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'and it highlights the plight of men and women who are too proud

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'or don't know how to claim benefits they deserve.

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'The saints help, and the scroungers get tracked down by investigators

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'who end their devious scams.'

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Coming up on today's programme,

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'the net closes in on a fantasist who swindled the state of £40,000.'

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We'll find you, come after you, prosecute you and get the money back.

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'And saintly salvation for a family

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'brought to their knees by devastating news.'

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When we told him, he said, "You can't die now, Dad..."

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'First, the fantasist who swindled thousands of pounds,

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'then tried to forge her way out of trouble.'

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I love a good read,

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losing myself in a book with a gripping plot

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and colourful characters.

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The thing is, I know that's exactly what it is - pure fiction.

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For some people, that line between fantasy and fiction starts to blur.

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That's when telling a good story turns into lying.

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'Lying is something benefit cheats do well

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'and one woman who specialised in telling porky pies

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'is Bernadette O'Driscoll.

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'For many years, she lived in an exclusive Hertfordshire community,

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'thanks to the generosity of a literary charity housing her.

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'The charity accepts residents in need who have a connection to the literary world.

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'Bernadette claimed to have no savings or assets,

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'and that her father used to work in publishing.

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'She then set about applying for income support

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'and to have her rent and council tax paid.

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'Over six years, Bernadette claimed over £40,000,

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'living a privileged life, courtesy of the tax payer.

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'This life was about to be turned upside down when fraud investigators

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'from Three Rivers District Council received a tip-off

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'that she was being less than honest about her circumstances.

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'This sparked a full enquiry led by Senior Fraud Investigator Annie Hickles.'

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I got a referral from the housing benefit section.

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They'd received an anonymous call that Bernadette O'Driscoll

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owned a property in Wales.

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I needed to look into whether or not that allegation was true.

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'Owning a property and not declaring it could mean

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'that O'Driscoll is not entitled to government help.'

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It's no surprise that benefit cheats lie.

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But when it comes to telling porky pies about property,

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fraud investigators have very useful data right at their fingertips.

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I looked up on a website to find out

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if the property in Wales did exist and if it had been sold recently.

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I then had the full address with the postcode that I could send off for a Land Registry check.

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The Land Registry house information

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or title deeds on all properties in the United Kingdom.

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They provide details of who owns the property, when it was registered to them and how much they paid.

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When the Land Registry came back, it told us

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Bernadette O'Driscoll purchased the property in September 2005,

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and that the price paid was 88,950.

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Because there is no registered charge on there, that money was paid in cash.

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'Bingo! O'Driscoll categorically does own the house in Wales,

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'and it's mortgage-free.'

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That would put her capital investment over £16,000,

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so she wouldn't have entitlement to Housing or Council Tax Benefit.

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'Did O'Driscoll mention the Welsh property on her application forms?'

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There's a particular question asking

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if the person is in receipt of any property

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other than the home they live in.

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In every single application, Miss O'Driscoll has declared no.

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'Not declaring capital assets in order to falsely claim benefits

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'is a serious offence.

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'The fraud team then unearthed another hot lead -

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'an address on one application form that points to a property in Bristol.

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'She's summoned for questioning under caution.'

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'Could you state your full name?'

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'You're not under arrest and you're free to leave any time.

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'On the last page, it states that

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'you've moved to our area from a Bristol address?'

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'Bernadette O'Driscoll admits she sold a property in Bristol,

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'but claims it was legitimate

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'because the capital was being held in trust for her niece.

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'The documents suggest it was Bernadette's late father

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'who set up the trust in relation to a London property he once owned,

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'naming Bernadette as the trustee.'

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' "I here unto set my hand to this declaration of trust

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' "this eighth day of June 1987."

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'And it's got your name underneath.'

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'If the document is legitimate, Bernadette hasn't done anything wrong, but it looks a bit dodgy.'

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'The fact the trust wasn't drawn up by a solicitor makes Annie more suspicious.

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'But at least the interview clarified the chain of events.'

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Bernadette explained that her father had owned a property in London.

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The property had been sold. They moved to a Bristol address.

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That property was sold.

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She then invested the money into various accounts,

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moved into our area and then purchased a holiday home in Wales,

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which she said she was entitled to do because it was held in trust.

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'Annie believes there's more to this trust than meets the eye.

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'Could Bernadette be using it to hide her assets?'

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If someone's lying and they're trying to cover their tracks,

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we won't give up, I will keep going.

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'The investigation into suspected scrounger Bernadette O'Driscoll

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'has been under way for four months.

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'She's proving to be a formidable adversary.

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'Annie Hickles believes O'Driscoll has stolen over 40 grand

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'by failing to declare a property in Wales while claiming benefits.

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'Under questioning, brazen Bernadette counter-attacked,

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'claiming it was held in trust for her niece.

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'And she was about to complicate things further.'

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Out of the blue, I received this document by post.

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It's saying someone's a co-trustee of the alleged trust.

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It isn't on legal headed paper but it does have a solicitor's stamp.

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'Knowing suspicions had been raised about the first trust deed,

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'Bernadette magicked up another.

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'Then, in an apparently deliberate ploy to stall the investigation,

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'a third trust document mysteriously arrives.'

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It's not got a signature of Bernadette O'Driscoll.

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This time, it has a signature of Bernadette's father, John Cadfryn-Roberts.

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OK, then. Bye for now...

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'Annie tracks down the solicitors named on the trust documents

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'and sends over all three versions for inspection.

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'It turns out it's the same firm who drew up Bernadette's father's will.

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'The solicitor's beady eye immediately spots something.'

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I noticed that it had a reference, as you would expect.

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LT/104874, and then a date, 28.3.89.

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Also, on the foot of the title page

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of the declaration of trust, which Annie Hickles had sent to me,

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there was also a reference which, rather surprisingly,

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was the same reference that was on the will.

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The strange thing about that

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was that if this declaration of trust was a genuine document,

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it would have had its own reference.

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It also had a date at the end of it,

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which was strangely, to my mind, typed in.

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When you go back to the will,

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the date at the end of the document was written in, which is usual.

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That, again, indicated to me that it was not a genuine document

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and could not have been prepared by any practising solicitor.

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'The revelations are a major breakthrough.

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'If the trust is a fake,

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'Bernadette will be bang to rights.

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'Annie needs more evidence, so she turns her attention

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'to the mysterious signatory on the second deed.

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'The question is, does he even know Bernadette O'Driscoll?'

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'The fraud team set to work

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'and, after a bit of hunting, track down the signatory.

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'He does claim to have known Bernadette in the past.

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'Annie arranged to meet him in a pub

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'but when she presented the document bearing his signature

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'he adamantly denied all knowledge and convinced Annie

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'he'd never seen the trust before, let alone signed it.'

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He was gob-smacked that she had done that without his authorisation.

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Hang on a second.

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This case is getting more and more complex for the fraud investigators, let alone me.

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Let me try and simplify it.

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The team is in possession of three trust deeds.

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They look a bit ropey.

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We do know that Bernadette O'Driscoll owns a house in Wales

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that she paid £88,950 for in cash.

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But the money to buy that came from the sale of a property in Bristol.

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And the money to buy that came from the sale of a flat in London

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which Bernadette's dad owned.

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From that, Bernadette wants us to believe the trust originated.

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You see? It's a piece of cake!

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Ha!

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'It's time to haul the fraudster back in for questioning.

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'What the investigators need to do

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'is prove the trust is a fake.

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'If it is, Bernadette would not be entitled to the £40,000 she's so far

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'claimed in benefits.'

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-Could you state your full name?

-Bernadette O'Driscoll.

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'They believe a discrepancy between the sale of her London property

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'and the date the trust was set up could crack the case.'

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GARRY: The information we obtained

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is that property was not owned by your father at that date.

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Let me just explain...

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This trust document that deals with that address,

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for which you're saying, "I didn't tell you cos it was in trust."

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You should have told us, and this trust doesn't seem to mean anything.

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' O'Driscoll was clearly feeling the heat but the team had a problem.

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'They cannot access the title deeds for the London property,

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'which would prove in court the date of sale.

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'Just when they thought they had her,

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'Bernadette's slipping through the net.'

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By now, I was getting quite, um...

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I suppose the word is confused

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as to what was true and what wasn't. I needed more evidence.

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'Later in the programme, a forensic breakthrough.

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'Will it be enough to put O'Driscoll in court?'

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'From the scroungers ripping off the system to the people we call saints,

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'who help put money into the pockets of people in genuine need,

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'and the people who are too proud or simply don't know how to claim what's rightfully theirs.'

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Being told you are seriously or terminally ill doesn't bear thinking about.

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But if you're the main breadwinner,

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how are you going to support the ones you love?

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If you're too ill to work, who's going to pay the bills?

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'44-year-old Michael Medd used to work as a testing engineer.

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'In February 2007, he collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital.

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'Michael was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

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'Life as he knew it was over.'

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After having the tumour and my kidney removed,

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I was hoping that was the cancer gone.

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Unfortunately, a year down the line, the cancer came back.

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It ended up going on both lungs and two lymph glands next to my heart,

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which made it impossible for them to operate.

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It turns your whole world upside down because you were told that you didn't have long to live.

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'Michael was struggling to cope, but not just emotionally.

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'Unable to work, Michael and Angela found themselves in financial dire straits.'

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You've got the same bills coming in but I was on, probably, 10%

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of what I was originally earning.

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I had to drop my hours to part-time, to be here to care for him.

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So it was a real big strain.

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Incapacity Benefit, that was the only thing we got, initially.

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At the time, I think it was about £70 a week.

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'To add to the financial pressure,

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'Michael and Angela have a large family, including two daughters,

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'and now two grandchildren.

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'They're also primary carers for their autistic son, Robert.

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'I want to find out more about Michael and how he's coping with this desperate situation.'

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-Tell me about your life up until you became ill.

-The job was going OK.

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I earned good money. Family life was great.

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But total devastation come that day when I collapsed at work,

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wondering what was going on with me.

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Up until then, everything was champion, you know.

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-A granddad in his early 40s. You must be very proud.

-Extremely.

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Because, funny enough, Robert, with his autism,

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when we told him that I didn't have long to live,

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-he said, "You can't die now, Dad, because you're not a granddad."

-Must have hurt.

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It did.

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It's hard because...at the time

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when I told him...

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..it was the worst thing we've ever had to do, you know.

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'Surviving on around £70 a week Incapacity Benefit

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'and Angela's reduced part-time wage,

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'financially and emotionally, they were at rock bottom.

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'A Macmillan nurse started worrying about how Angela was coping.'

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She saw me dipping.

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And she said, "Angela, I think you need some help."

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'The Macmillan nurse referred Angela to the George Hardwick Foundation,

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'a charitable organisation dedicated to supporting carers.

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'They arranged for Angela to receive counselling.'

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It really helped me. I walked in one day and I was absolutely in pieces.

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'The Foundation then turned their attentions to one of the root causes of the stress - money.

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'Their household outgoings were exceeding their income.

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'Michael was invited to the centre...

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'to meet Geoff Christison,

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an information advisor who dedicates his life

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'to helping people like Michael and Angela get their full entitlement.

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'Last year, more than £126.5 million went unclaimed

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'by terminally-ill cancer patients.

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'Thanks to people like Geoff, some of this stash of money finds its way

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'into the pockets of those who desperately need it.

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'Geoff immediately spots a benefit Michael should be entitled to,

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'Disability Living Allowance.'

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Disability Living Allowance

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is a benefit for anybody under 65 who has a serious medical condition.

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The normal rules are that you've been poorly for three months

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and likely to be poorly for the next six.

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Michael had been turned down for Disability Living Allowance at first

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which shows how difficult, sometimes, these situations are.

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'Geoff believes Michael may have

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'failed to complete the application correctly.

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'It's up to his expertise to ensure the new claim presents a solid case.

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'And it's good news. This time, Michael's been approved

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and that means a precious extra £50 per week.

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-I feel positive for you both.

-I hope you're right. We'll keep positive.

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-I'll keep it up here.

-Yeah.

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-Keep smiling.

-That's it.

-Yes.

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Mick and Angela demonstrate how important it is to ask for help when you need it.

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No point feeling guilty. If you're genuine, that's what it's there for.

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It's given them something so valuable you can't put a price on it -

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more time together. Think about it.

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'Now, on to the next chapter of Bernadette O'Driscoll.'

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It's been a gripping story so far.

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She has come under the scrutiny of the Three Rivers District Council fraud investigators,

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who suspect that she has fleeced thousands of pounds of benefits

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that she's not entitled to.

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'To the untrained eye, Bernadette O'Driscoll looks like a woman

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'deserving of the £40,000 of benefits

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'that she's been merrily claiming for over a decade.

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'But she had a stash of money invested in a property in Wales.

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'She's not just living off tax-payers' money.

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'She's been housed by a literary charity.'

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This is the benefits office,

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where the real world of fraud investigation takes place.

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These guys only deal with cold, hard facts.

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Garry, Bernadette O'Driscoll. Tell me about her.

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Um...

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-Complicated.

-Ouch. Don't like the sound of that.

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It was made complicated by her and by her deception.

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She made no admissions throughout the investigation.

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-Kept denying everything?

-So it complicated the process.

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We discovered she had had a number of properties.

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What complicated it was they were in trust.

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-She was trying to hide that she was a beneficiary.

-Absolutely.

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'This alleged trust would mean Bernadette's money invested in the Welsh property

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'was merely being held on behalf of a beneficiary, Bernadette's niece.

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'What the investigators need to do is somehow prove or disprove it.

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'The case had been active for over a year, and for much of this,

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'Bernadette's benefits were frozen, and she wasn't a happy chappy.'

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We got bombarded with letters, complaints.

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She complained to the Ombudsman, to our Chief Executive.

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She complained to the Law Society,

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alleging that we were incompetent.

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Abusive phone calls, anything to get us to stop the investigation.

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'The threats didn't end there.

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'She turned on fellow residents at the literary charity

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'and, without any evidence, accused them of shopping her.'

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She was putting up posters,

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threatening residents that they had reported her, done this, done that.

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which led to Bernadette O'Driscoll receiving a warning.

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'Convinced that they'd got a fully fledged criminal on their hands,

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'the team's sole mission

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'is to build a rock solid case that will hold up in court.

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'So far, they have been told by a solicitor that one trust deed

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'is likely to be a fake, but that's not enough to convince a jury.

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'To get hard evidence, the trust document is sent to forensic experts

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'who specialise in handwriting analysis.

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'The results are conclusive.

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'The signature of O'Driscoll's father is not what it seems.'

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It was a cut-and-paste job from his last will and testament

0:23:270:23:32

onto this alleged trust document.

0:23:320:23:35

Therefore, it wasn't a true and correct document.

0:23:350:23:39

'So, hard proof.

0:23:390:23:42

'Devious O'Driscoll, armed with a photocopier and a pair of scissors,

0:23:420:23:47

'had cut her late father's signature and pasted it on a fake trust deed.

0:23:470:23:52

'Just how low can you go?

0:23:520:23:54

'The trust was the main part of Bernadette's defence,

0:23:560:24:00

'that the money wasn't actually hers.

0:24:000:24:03

'Scientific analysis now backed up all the other research

0:24:030:24:07

'and proved that the trust document was false.

0:24:070:24:11

'What about the niece who the money was supposed to go to?

0:24:110:24:15

'The team spent months looking for her and her dad, Bernadette's brother.'

0:24:150:24:21

Finally, we got the first communication that we had with him.

0:24:210:24:26

In actual fact, his daughter, when he provided the date of birth,

0:24:260:24:30

wasn't born until a year after this alleged trust was in place

0:24:300:24:35

for his daughter.

0:24:350:24:38

Unless he'd had a premonition that she was going to be born,

0:24:380:24:42

it had to be false.

0:24:420:24:45

'After three years, Annie and Garry had the proof they needed -

0:24:460:24:51

'a confirmed fake trust deed

0:24:510:24:54

'and evidence that the niece named wasn't born when it was drawn up.

0:24:540:24:58

'It put Bernadette O'Driscoll in front of a judge.'

0:24:580:25:01

She was a lot more quiet in the courtroom.

0:25:010:25:06

She certainly didn't lose her temper.

0:25:060:25:09

Bernadette was still adamant that the trust document was true.

0:25:120:25:17

I couldn't believe it, given the evidence proving it wasn't.

0:25:170:25:21

'The jury were having none of it.'

0:25:210:25:23

Guilty.

0:25:230:25:25

'It was not the first time she had been caught red-handed.

0:25:250:25:29

'In 2000, Bristol Crown Court prosecuted her

0:25:290:25:33

'for perverting the course of justice - what a surprise(!)'

0:25:330:25:37

It's a great result.

0:25:370:25:39

We just hope we don't get any similar cases for a while, to recover.

0:25:390:25:45

A lot of hard work had gone into it. Justice was done.

0:25:450:25:49

'Bernadette O'Driscoll was found guilty on all 12 charges,

0:25:490:25:54

'from obtaining money by deception to making false representations.

0:25:540:25:59

'Because of her health, this cheat was spared a stretch inside,

0:25:590:26:03

'but she was landed with an 18-month suspended sentence

0:26:030:26:08

'and a confiscation order

0:26:080:26:10

'to pay back a total of...

0:26:100:26:12

'After harassing her fellow residents,

0:26:160:26:18

'and the discovery she wasn't in need of help,

0:26:180:26:21

'the charity had no choice but to issue an eviction notice.

0:26:210:26:27

'But in true Bernadette style, she refused to go,

0:26:270:26:31

'forcing the charity to spend a further £25,000 in court costs

0:26:310:26:36

'to get rid of her.'

0:26:360:26:38

Fact CAN be stranger than fiction, when it comes to the fantasy life

0:26:410:26:46

of someone like Bernadette O'Driscoll.

0:26:460:26:48

Like all good stories, the good guys come out on top.

0:26:480:26:52

A happy ending for you and me. Not so great for Bernadette.

0:26:520:26:56

Subtitling by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:27:190:27:22

Dominic Littlewood presents a series looking at the work of fraud investigators searching out benefit thieves and meets the people they are stealing from - the genuine claimants.

The net closes in on a fantasist who swindled the state out of over 40,000 pounds by forging documents and weaving a web of lies.

Plus when 44-year-old Michael Medd collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital, he feared the worst. Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and was forced to give up work - making it almost impossible for him to support his family - but help was at hand.


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