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Caddies accused of benefits scam

Caddies at one of Britain's most exclusive golf clubs have been accused of fraudulently claiming welfare benefits.

Thirty self-employed caddies at Muirfield, near Edinburgh, are alleged to have been claiming more than 100,000 a year in benefits, while earning up to 100 per round at the course. The claims follow a six-week investigation by the Benefits Agency, which included the use of hidden cameras at the course.

The caddies are accused of claiming a variety of benefits, including incapacity benefit and the disability living allowance. Three were listed by the Benefits Agency as being almost crippled.

The agency said it was considering prosecuting.

"This is a major coup for us," said a spokesperson. "In monetary terms they were getting 2,293 a week illegally. It's disgraceful."

In a statement later, the agency added that it was "a good example of the fraud investigation service taking prompt and efficient action".

Muirfield hosted the Open in 1992, and is due to host it again in 2002. It numbers lawyers and judges among its members. Celebrities such as Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon have also played there in recent months.

Although the caddies are not employed by the club, they are controlled by a caddie master who is employed there. He keeps a record of who is working at the club on what day.

Club secretary Group Captain John Prideaux told newspapers on Saturday: "These people are not employed by us.

"They are not owned by us. There are nothing to do with us and this is not our problem."