Anti-fracking protester 'too afraid to leave home' convicted of benefit fraud

A WELL-known eco-warrior, said to be too afraid to leave the house alone, has been found guilty of benefit fraud after being filmed jumping on a lorry at an anti-fracking protest. John Knox, 33, had insisted to benefits chiefs that even the most basic of journeys would leave him with “severe psychological distress”, Preston Crown Court heard. But investigators discovered footage of Knox climbing on board a truck on the A583 near the Little Plumpton fracking site, the court was told.

An earlier magistrates court hearing was told he remained perched on top of the lorry’s cab for more than 24 hours, an offence for which he was fined. Knox, formerly of Dugdale Place, Blackpool, but now Maplewood, Liverpool, had denied failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions over a change in circumstances for benefits but was convicted after a trial. He was bailed for pre-sentence reports by Judge Andrew Jefferies QC and will learn his fate on March 9.

Fiona Clancy, prosecuting, said there was also footage obtained of Know being locked onto machinery at the site on another occasion. She told jurors the overpayment of his benefit – personal independence payments – amounted to nearly GBP9,000 between September 2016 and May 2018. Miss Clancy said Knox had first claimed PIP, formerly known as disability living allowance, in June 2013.

He informed an assessor he was suffering from asthma, dyslexia, learning difficulties, back pain, problems with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Knox said he “became frightened in crowds” and needed help with bathing, clothing himself and even leaving the house without support, the court heard. He was initially awarded payments based on his physical ailments and later increased this to cover the ‘mobility’ element of PIP.

Miss Clancy said he claimed making any kind of journey would leave him suffering from “severe psychological distress”. Later assessors ruled he did not qualify for the mobility element and he appealed to an independent tribunal in April 2017, which saw his payments restored. But Miss Clancy said two months before the appeal took place, Knox was filmed at an anti-fracking protest.

Similar footage also existed of him taking part in no fewer than five other demonstrations.

“Some of the footage shows him being locked into machinery for long periods of time, with other protester, while members of the police have to break in and release them,” she added.

Miss Clancy said: “The Crown says that none of this behaviour is consistent with a person who declares he cannot undertake journeys on his own because he suffers psychological distress.”