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.
Browse content similar to O'Driscoll/Hardwick. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
What makes this country great is we give money to people who need it.
But wherever there's money, people want to steal it.
Welcome to the world of Saints & Scroungers.
'Saints & Scroungers puts the spotlight on benefit thieves
'who ruthlessly steal millions every year from the tax payer,
'and it highlights the plight of men and women who are too proud
'or don't know how to claim benefits they deserve.
'The saints help, and the scroungers get tracked down by investigators
'who end their devious scams.'
Coming up on today's programme,
'the net closes in on a fantasist who swindled the state of £40,000.'
We'll find you, come after you, prosecute you and get the money back.
'And saintly salvation for a family
'brought to their knees by devastating news.'
When we told him, he said, "You can't die now, Dad..."
'First, the fantasist who swindled thousands of pounds,
'then tried to forge her way out of trouble.'
I love a good read,
losing myself in a book with a gripping plot
and colourful characters.
The thing is, I know that's exactly what it is - pure fiction.
For some people, that line between fantasy and fiction starts to blur.
That's when telling a good story turns into lying.
'Lying is something benefit cheats do well
'and one woman who specialised in telling porky pies
'is Bernadette O'Driscoll.
'For many years, she lived in an exclusive Hertfordshire community,
'thanks to the generosity of a literary charity housing her.
'The charity accepts residents in need who have a connection to the literary world.
'Bernadette claimed to have no savings or assets,
'and that her father used to work in publishing.
'She then set about applying for income support
'and to have her rent and council tax paid.
'Over six years, Bernadette claimed over £40,000,
'living a privileged life, courtesy of the tax payer.
'This life was about to be turned upside down when fraud investigators
'from Three Rivers District Council received a tip-off
'that she was being less than honest about her circumstances.
'This sparked a full enquiry led by Senior Fraud Investigator Annie Hickles.'
I got a referral from the housing benefit section.
They'd received an anonymous call that Bernadette O'Driscoll
owned a property in Wales.
I needed to look into whether or not that allegation was true.
'Owning a property and not declaring it could mean
'that O'Driscoll is not entitled to government help.'
It's no surprise that benefit cheats lie.
But when it comes to telling porky pies about property,
fraud investigators have very useful data right at their fingertips.
I looked up on a website to find out
if the property in Wales did exist and if it had been sold recently.
I then had the full address with the postcode that I could send off for a Land Registry check.
The Land Registry house information
or title deeds on all properties in the United Kingdom.
They provide details of who owns the property, when it was registered to them and how much they paid.
When the Land Registry came back, it told us
Bernadette O'Driscoll purchased the property in September 2005,
and that the price paid was 88,950.
Because there is no registered charge on there, that money was paid in cash.
'Bingo! O'Driscoll categorically does own the house in Wales,
'and it's mortgage-free.'
That would put her capital investment over £16,000,
so she wouldn't have entitlement to Housing or Council Tax Benefit.
'Did O'Driscoll mention the Welsh property on her application forms?'
There's a particular question asking
if the person is in receipt of any property
other than the home they live in.
In every single application, Miss O'Driscoll has declared no.
'Not declaring capital assets in order to falsely claim benefits
'is a serious offence.
'The fraud team then unearthed another hot lead -
'an address on one application form that points to a property in Bristol.
'She's summoned for questioning under caution.'
'Could you state your full name?'
'You're not under arrest and you're free to leave any time.
'On the last page, it states that
'you've moved to our area from a Bristol address?'
'Bernadette O'Driscoll admits she sold a property in Bristol,
'but claims it was legitimate
'because the capital was being held in trust for her niece.
'The documents suggest it was Bernadette's late father
'who set up the trust in relation to a London property he once owned,
'naming Bernadette as the trustee.'
' "I here unto set my hand to this declaration of trust
' "this eighth day of June 1987."
'And it's got your name underneath.'
'If the document is legitimate, Bernadette hasn't done anything wrong, but it looks a bit dodgy.'
'The fact the trust wasn't drawn up by a solicitor makes Annie more suspicious.
'But at least the interview clarified the chain of events.'
Bernadette explained that her father had owned a property in London.
The property had been sold. They moved to a Bristol address.
That property was sold.
She then invested the money into various accounts,
moved into our area and then purchased a holiday home in Wales,
which she said she was entitled to do because it was held in trust.
'Annie believes there's more to this trust than meets the eye.
'Could Bernadette be using it to hide her assets?'
If someone's lying and they're trying to cover their tracks,
we won't give up, I will keep going.
'The investigation into suspected scrounger Bernadette O'Driscoll
'has been under way for four months.
'She's proving to be a formidable adversary.
'Annie Hickles believes O'Driscoll has stolen over 40 grand
'by failing to declare a property in Wales while claiming benefits.
'Under questioning, brazen Bernadette counter-attacked,
'claiming it was held in trust for her niece.
'And she was about to complicate things further.'
Out of the blue, I received this document by post.
It's saying someone's a co-trustee of the alleged trust.
It isn't on legal headed paper but it does have a solicitor's stamp.
'Knowing suspicions had been raised about the first trust deed,
'Bernadette magicked up another.
'Then, in an apparently deliberate ploy to stall the investigation,
'a third trust document mysteriously arrives.'
It's not got a signature of Bernadette O'Driscoll.
This time, it has a signature of Bernadette's father, John Cadfryn-Roberts.
OK, then. Bye for now...
'Annie tracks down the solicitors named on the trust documents
'and sends over all three versions for inspection.
'It turns out it's the same firm who drew up Bernadette's father's will.
'The solicitor's beady eye immediately spots something.'
I noticed that it had a reference, as you would expect.
LT/104874, and then a date, 28.3.89.
Also, on the foot of the title page
of the declaration of trust, which Annie Hickles had sent to me,
there was also a reference which, rather surprisingly,
was the same reference that was on the will.
The strange thing about that
was that if this declaration of trust was a genuine document,
it would have had its own reference.
It also had a date at the end of it,
which was strangely, to my mind, typed in.
When you go back to the will,
the date at the end of the document was written in, which is usual.
That, again, indicated to me that it was not a genuine document
and could not have been prepared by any practising solicitor.
'The revelations are a major breakthrough.
'If the trust is a fake,
'Bernadette will be bang to rights.
'Annie needs more evidence, so she turns her attention
'to the mysterious signatory on the second deed.
'The question is, does he even know Bernadette O'Driscoll?'
'The fraud team set to work
'and, after a bit of hunting, track down the signatory.
'He does claim to have known Bernadette in the past.
'Annie arranged to meet him in a pub
'but when she presented the document bearing his signature
'he adamantly denied all knowledge and convinced Annie
'he'd never seen the trust before, let alone signed it.'
He was gob-smacked that she had done that without his authorisation.
Hang on a second.
This case is getting more and more complex for the fraud investigators, let alone me.
Let me try and simplify it.
The team is in possession of three trust deeds.
They look a bit ropey.
We do know that Bernadette O'Driscoll owns a house in Wales
that she paid £88,950 for in cash.
But the money to buy that came from the sale of a property in Bristol.
And the money to buy that came from the sale of a flat in London
which Bernadette's dad owned.
From that, Bernadette wants us to believe the trust originated.
You see? It's a piece of cake!
'It's time to haul the fraudster back in for questioning.
'What the investigators need to do
'is prove the trust is a fake.
'If it is, Bernadette would not be entitled to the £40,000 she's so far
'claimed in benefits.'
-Could you state your full name?
'They believe a discrepancy between the sale of her London property
'and the date the trust was set up could crack the case.'
GARRY: The information we obtained
is that property was not owned by your father at that date.
Let me just explain...
This trust document that deals with that address,
for which you're saying, "I didn't tell you cos it was in trust."
You should have told us, and this trust doesn't seem to mean anything.
' O'Driscoll was clearly feeling the heat but the team had a problem.
'They cannot access the title deeds for the London property,
'which would prove in court the date of sale.
'Just when they thought they had her,
'Bernadette's slipping through the net.'
By now, I was getting quite, um...
I suppose the word is confused
as to what was true and what wasn't. I needed more evidence.
'Later in the programme, a forensic breakthrough.
'Will it be enough to put O'Driscoll in court?'
'From the scroungers ripping off the system to the people we call saints,
'who help put money into the pockets of people in genuine need,
'and the people who are too proud or simply don't know how to claim what's rightfully theirs.'
Being told you are seriously or terminally ill doesn't bear thinking about.
But if you're the main breadwinner,
how are you going to support the ones you love?
If you're too ill to work, who's going to pay the bills?
'44-year-old Michael Medd used to work as a testing engineer.
'In February 2007, he collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital.
'Michael was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
'Life as he knew it was over.'
After having the tumour and my kidney removed,
I was hoping that was the cancer gone.
Unfortunately, a year down the line, the cancer came back.
It ended up going on both lungs and two lymph glands next to my heart,
which made it impossible for them to operate.
It turns your whole world upside down because you were told that you didn't have long to live.
'Michael was struggling to cope, but not just emotionally.
'Unable to work, Michael and Angela found themselves in financial dire straits.'
You've got the same bills coming in but I was on, probably, 10%
of what I was originally earning.
I had to drop my hours to part-time, to be here to care for him.
So it was a real big strain.
Incapacity Benefit, that was the only thing we got, initially.
At the time, I think it was about £70 a week.
'To add to the financial pressure,
'Michael and Angela have a large family, including two daughters,
'and now two grandchildren.
'They're also primary carers for their autistic son, Robert.
'I want to find out more about Michael and how he's coping with this desperate situation.'
-Tell me about your life up until you became ill.
-The job was going OK.
I earned good money. Family life was great.
But total devastation come that day when I collapsed at work,
wondering what was going on with me.
Up until then, everything was champion, you know.
-A granddad in his early 40s. You must be very proud.
Because, funny enough, Robert, with his autism,
when we told him that I didn't have long to live,
-he said, "You can't die now, Dad, because you're not a granddad."
-Must have hurt.
It's hard because...at the time
when I told him...
..it was the worst thing we've ever had to do, you know.
'Surviving on around £70 a week Incapacity Benefit
'and Angela's reduced part-time wage,
'financially and emotionally, they were at rock bottom.
'A Macmillan nurse started worrying about how Angela was coping.'
She saw me dipping.
And she said, "Angela, I think you need some help."
'The Macmillan nurse referred Angela to the George Hardwick Foundation,
'a charitable organisation dedicated to supporting carers.
'They arranged for Angela to receive counselling.'
It really helped me. I walked in one day and I was absolutely in pieces.
'The Foundation then turned their attentions to one of the root causes of the stress - money.
'Their household outgoings were exceeding their income.
'Michael was invited to the centre...
'to meet Geoff Christison,
an information advisor who dedicates his life
'to helping people like Michael and Angela get their full entitlement.
'Last year, more than £126.5 million went unclaimed
'by terminally-ill cancer patients.
'Thanks to people like Geoff, some of this stash of money finds its way
'into the pockets of those who desperately need it.
'Geoff immediately spots a benefit Michael should be entitled to,
'Disability Living Allowance.'
Disability Living Allowance
is a benefit for anybody under 65 who has a serious medical condition.
The normal rules are that you've been poorly for three months
and likely to be poorly for the next six.
Michael had been turned down for Disability Living Allowance at first
which shows how difficult, sometimes, these situations are.
'Geoff believes Michael may have
'failed to complete the application correctly.
'It's up to his expertise to ensure the new claim presents a solid case.
'And it's good news. This time, Michael's been approved
and that means a precious extra £50 per week.
-I feel positive for you both.
-I hope you're right. We'll keep positive.
-I'll keep it up here.
Mick and Angela demonstrate how important it is to ask for help when you need it.
No point feeling guilty. If you're genuine, that's what it's there for.
It's given them something so valuable you can't put a price on it -
more time together. Think about it.
'Now, on to the next chapter of Bernadette O'Driscoll.'
It's been a gripping story so far.
She has come under the scrutiny of the Three Rivers District Council fraud investigators,
who suspect that she has fleeced thousands of pounds of benefits
that she's not entitled to.
'To the untrained eye, Bernadette O'Driscoll looks like a woman
'deserving of the £40,000 of benefits
'that she's been merrily claiming for over a decade.
'But she had a stash of money invested in a property in Wales.
'She's not just living off tax-payers' money.
'She's been housed by a literary charity.'
This is the benefits office,
where the real world of fraud investigation takes place.
These guys only deal with cold, hard facts.
Garry, Bernadette O'Driscoll. Tell me about her.
-Ouch. Don't like the sound of that.
It was made complicated by her and by her deception.
She made no admissions throughout the investigation.
-Kept denying everything?
-So it complicated the process.
We discovered she had had a number of properties.
What complicated it was they were in trust.
-She was trying to hide that she was a beneficiary.
'This alleged trust would mean Bernadette's money invested in the Welsh property
'was merely being held on behalf of a beneficiary, Bernadette's niece.
'What the investigators need to do is somehow prove or disprove it.
'The case had been active for over a year, and for much of this,
'Bernadette's benefits were frozen, and she wasn't a happy chappy.'
We got bombarded with letters, complaints.
She complained to the Ombudsman, to our Chief Executive.
She complained to the Law Society,
alleging that we were incompetent.
Abusive phone calls, anything to get us to stop the investigation.
'The threats didn't end there.
'She turned on fellow residents at the literary charity
'and, without any evidence, accused them of shopping her.'
She was putting up posters,
threatening residents that they had reported her, done this, done that.
which led to Bernadette O'Driscoll receiving a warning.
'Convinced that they'd got a fully fledged criminal on their hands,
'the team's sole mission
'is to build a rock solid case that will hold up in court.
'So far, they have been told by a solicitor that one trust deed
'is likely to be a fake, but that's not enough to convince a jury.
'To get hard evidence, the trust document is sent to forensic experts
'who specialise in handwriting analysis.
'The results are conclusive.
'The signature of O'Driscoll's father is not what it seems.'
It was a cut-and-paste job from his last will and testament
onto this alleged trust document.
Therefore, it wasn't a true and correct document.
'So, hard proof.
'Devious O'Driscoll, armed with a photocopier and a pair of scissors,
'had cut her late father's signature and pasted it on a fake trust deed.
'Just how low can you go?
'The trust was the main part of Bernadette's defence,
'that the money wasn't actually hers.
'Scientific analysis now backed up all the other research
'and proved that the trust document was false.
'What about the niece who the money was supposed to go to?
'The team spent months looking for her and her dad, Bernadette's brother.'
Finally, we got the first communication that we had with him.
In actual fact, his daughter, when he provided the date of birth,
wasn't born until a year after this alleged trust was in place
for his daughter.
Unless he'd had a premonition that she was going to be born,
it had to be false.
'After three years, Annie and Garry had the proof they needed -
'a confirmed fake trust deed
'and evidence that the niece named wasn't born when it was drawn up.
'It put Bernadette O'Driscoll in front of a judge.'
She was a lot more quiet in the courtroom.
She certainly didn't lose her temper.
Bernadette was still adamant that the trust document was true.
I couldn't believe it, given the evidence proving it wasn't.
'The jury were having none of it.'
'It was not the first time she had been caught red-handed.
'In 2000, Bristol Crown Court prosecuted her
'for perverting the course of justice - what a surprise(!)'
It's a great result.
We just hope we don't get any similar cases for a while, to recover.
A lot of hard work had gone into it. Justice was done.
'Bernadette O'Driscoll was found guilty on all 12 charges,
'from obtaining money by deception to making false representations.
'Because of her health, this cheat was spared a stretch inside,
'but she was landed with an 18-month suspended sentence
'and a confiscation order
'to pay back a total of...
'After harassing her fellow residents,
'and the discovery she wasn't in need of help,
'the charity had no choice but to issue an eviction notice.
'But in true Bernadette style, she refused to go,
'forcing the charity to spend a further £25,000 in court costs
'to get rid of her.'
Fact CAN be stranger than fiction, when it comes to the fantasy life
of someone like Bernadette O'Driscoll.
Like all good stories, the good guys come out on top.
A happy ending for you and me. Not so great for Bernadette.
Subtitling by Red Bee Media Ltd
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.