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Sick-leave sprinter to repay wages

A sprinter who raced in national competitions while signed off sick was branded a "common criminal" for defrauding his employers as he was made to pay the money back.

Matthew Thomas, 34, was handed a sentence of four months' imprisonment suspended for two years and ordered to repay nearly £12,000 he had taken from his employer, Newham Council.

Thomas, of Purley Bury Avenue, Purley, Croydon, south London, was also ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work and to pay £8,000 in costs.

Sentencing, Judge Nigel Gerald told Thomas: "You were a person of previous good character, held in esteem by your community. In 2006, you raced in the Commonwealth Games representing your country, St Lucia. You have stated your concerns that you have now been branded as a common criminal, but that is because that is what you are."

Thomas told bosses at Newham Council, in east London, where he worked as a payroll officer, that he injured his back falling off a ladder.

But as he handed in sick notes and received almost £12,000 in pay, Thomas was caught on camera taking part in a series of races. He also led regular coaching sessions for Met-Track, an athletics scheme set up by the Metropolitan Police.

In August, a jury at Inner London Crown Court found the runner guilty of seven counts of defrauding his employers by false representations. He was cleared of a further three counts of false representation and one of failing to disclose information relating to his athletics coaching.

During the trial, the court was shown video footage of Thomas taking part in competitions and training youngsters. Thomas raced in the Birmingham Athletic Games and took part in the Surrey County Indoor Championships. This was at a time when he was telling bosses that he had difficulty performing everyday activities.

Between November 2007 and June 2008 he received £11,999.17 while off work, it emerged.

Thomas, who insisted he had never acted in a dishonest fashion, claimed he took part in the races so he could obtain free physiotherapy. He said in interview that he had difficulty sitting down for long periods but that the condition had little or no effect on his ability to work as an athletics coach or take part in competitions.

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