A wealthy pensioner pocketed £43,000 in a benefit fraud after failing to declare his family owned and later sold a luxury Birmingham hotel.
Former paratrooper Dennis Hopwood, 75, falsely claimed Pension Credit and council tax benefits over eight years, despite him and his wife receiving £500 per week from the family business.
His scam continued even after his wife and son sold the Bridge House Hotel they ran in Acocks Green for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Hopwood appeared at Coventry Crown Court on Friday, where the case was outlined by prosecutor Madhu Rai.
He pleaded guilty to one count of cheating the public revenue between October 6, 2003, and May 20, 2012, by receiving £27,710 in Pension Credit, to which he was not entitled. He also admitted evasion of liability by deception between October 1, 2005, and May 20, 2012, when he falsely claimed £15,538 council tax benefit.
The pensioner received a 10 month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months, after a judge branded his behaviour ‘thoroughly dishonest’.
The ex-soldier was told he had narrowly avoided being sent to prison because of his early guilty plea, genuine remorse, and repayment of the £43,248 benefits.
Dennis Hopwood leaving Coventry Crown Court
Hopwood was also placed on a curfew for six months, from between 9pm and 8am, and ordered to pay a £100 victim surcharge.
The court heard that his wife, Barbara, and son, Paul, were partners in the Bridge House Hotel. Hopwood and his wife lived on the premises but he did not have a share in the business, although he carried out odd jobs.
Hopwood began claiming Pension Credit for himself and his wife after stating on official forms that he had no additional income and savings of £6,000. The former soldier also went on to claim council tax benefit.
Yet the Department of Works and Pension eventually became aware he was receiving £500 per week from the business account of Bridge House Hotel.
In total, investigators found £40,000 was transferred to his account in 80 weekly payments between August 2003 and February 25, 2005.
The scam continued even after the hotel was sold in 2005, when £203,071 was paid into the account of Hopwood’s wife and son.
Yet the ex-paratrooper failed to declare the capital and he and his wife later bought a property in Darlow Drive, Stratford-upon-Avon, and were left with no mortgage.
Investigators eventually caught up with the benefit cheat who, under questioning, admitted his wife was running the hotel business but he initially denied receiving £500 per week.
Hopwood later confirmed he had been pocketing the weekly cash. He also claimed he had little understanding of the benefit system – but admitted his actions could be seen as being ‘a little shady’.
Andrew Evans, defending, said his client was of previous good character and could not be more sorry. Hopwood, who suffered a stroke in 2010, had since repaid ‘every single penny’, he added.
Anyone who knows Dennis Hopwood would find it very difficult to understand what he’s done, said Mr Evans. He said he was a former paratrooper and was wearing his tie in court to give him courage.
His wife had arranged for the £500 per week payments, Mr Evans added, although neither she nor his son had any idea about his benefit fraud.
The lawyer said his client had failed to declare his wider financial interests, which included that he had effectively an equitable interest in the hotel. Mr Evans added the crime was not ‘premeditated’ and his client was not a greedy man.
But Recorder Spencer Bernard told Hopwood he had committed, a ‘thoroughly dishonest and persistent scheme of offending. You knew exactly what was going on.’’