AN elderly fraudster who falsely claimed $690,000 in benefits for being a prisoner of war will spend his first actual night behind bars tonight after being jailed for four years.
The District Court in Brisbane heard the amazing tale of Arthur Rex Crane who wove a tale of fantasy in which he was a teenage World War II guerilla fighter who was captured and tortured by the Japanese in Malaya.
On the basis of his story Crane rose to the highest positions of the prisoner of war groups, which in the end was the catylst for exposing him as fraud.
Crane had spent WWII as a schoolboy in Adelaide and had in fact never served in any military.
The court heard Crane was exposed when he was a guest speaker at a prisoner of war ceremony at Ballarat in Victoria and a historian in the audience realised he was a liar.
Crane, 84, pleaded guilty to defrauding the Commonwealth and obtaining a financial benefit from the Commonwealth by deception, on various dates between 1988 and 2009.
Judge Marshall Irwin sentenced Crane to four years jail but ordered he be released on a good behaviour bond after serving six months in jail.
He detailed how over a 22-month period Crane falsely claimed $690,000 in benefits.
But when legitimate claims he could have made (old age and disability pensions) were taken into account the total fraud was $464,409.
Judge Irwin said he accepted that Crane’s fraud was not for greed but rather a need to continue to be seen as a hero.
He detailed how Crane had been running a hotel in South Australia when he met two legitimate prisoners of war and he helped them.
Crane had become fascinated by their stories and developed an interest in their war experiences.
He had moved to Queensland in 1984 and became involved with more PoWs where he felt accepted.
Crane really began living the lie when PoWs urged him to apply for a total and permanent injury pension which they believed he should be receiving.
In the end Crane applied for the TPI and told a story that as a 16 year old he fought with a Malay guerrilla group during the war which had specialised in sabotage and demolition.
Crane claimed he was captured in 1942 by the Japanese and spent most of the war in prison and being forced to work on the infamous Burma railway.
He told stories of being tortured and left with physical and mental injuries.
Judge Irwin said it appeared Crane chose the guerrilla unit because it was under British control and records were not readily available.
“You presented a story in minute detail and thoroughly researched from real prisoners of war with whom you were acquainted,” Judge Irwin said.
Crane was so convincing he became national president of the Ex-PoW Association of Australia, vice president of the Queensland branch and treasurer of a PoW’s reunion group.
But everything came unstuck when Crane was a guest at a PoW function in Ballarat and historian Lynette Silver realised he was a fraud.
She began investigations that confirmed Crane couldn’t have been in the guerrilla outfit and Crane was exposed when it hit the media.
Judge Irwin said it had been an active, premeditated and calculated fraud but it was for not for greed but rather the need for Crane to maintain his story.
“It was a case of fantasy and deception which got totally out of control,” Judge Irwin said, noting Crane’s offending had been to mainatin a place of recognition in society.
Judge Irwin said Crane had shown scant regard for ex-PoWs.
“It is an insult to those who fought, were captured, tortured and died,” he added.
But Judge Irwin said in mitigation Crane had done “meritorious work” for ex-PoWs in his roles with the associations and he Crane still had the support of some of his members.
Outside court Mrs Silver said Crane’s actions had been despicable and she had been stunned when first realising he was a fraud.
In a statement through his lawyers outside court, Crane said he wanted to unreservedly apologise to PoWs and the people of Australia.
Crane said he did not ask to be forgiven because he could not forgive himself.