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Councillor able to stay after conviction for benefit fraud
2:02pm Sunday 23rd February 2014 in Mid Devon News
MID Devon District Council officials say they would have “sac-ked” convicted fraudster Cllr Kevin Wilson “on the spot” if they had the power to do so.
Cllr Wilson, 55, of Besley Close, Tiverton, received a ten-week suspended sentence with 200 hours’ community service after pleading guilty to two counts of fraud, but the council says it has “no power” to remove him from office.
In a statement yesterday (Thurs-day), the council said it had no legal grounds to take action against Cllr Wilson, who represents the Cran-more ward in Tiverton.
The suspended sentence he received was less than the minimum 13 weeks which would have triggered an automatic disqualification from his position.
The statement said: “Managers, staff and elected members of Mid Devon District Council have expressed anger and frustration that a Mid Devon councillor has been found guilty of benefit fraud, has received a suspended prison sentence, and yet continues to serve as a councillor and receive his allowance.
“The council wishes to make it clear that legally it has no power to remove this councillor from office.
“This is because the Government abolished the previous national disciplinary system for councils as part of the Localism Act 2011, which would have enabled us to take action.”
Council chief executive Kevin Finan said: “Had this been a member of staff we’d have suspended them when the allegations were first made and sacked them on the spot when found guilty.
“Unfortunately, due to changes in the law we’re prevented from applying the same standards to our elected members.
“The matter will, however, be considered at the full council meeting on Wednesday, February 26, [6pm start] when councillors will vote on a motion condemning Cllr Wilson and calling for his immediate resignation.
“The meeting at Tiverton Town Hall is open to the public.”
Cllr Wilson, a former Tiverton Mayor, has indicated that he does not intend to resign.
Commenting on recent criticism of the council for “acting disproportionately”
and “legal attempts to utterly destroy” Cllr Wilson, Mr Finan said: “The council has a legal duty to take action where we find fraudulent and criminal behaviour, in this instance with one of our councillors.
“I believe in these circumstances any reasonable person would conclude that any damage to his reputation is entirely his own doing.
“One can only imagine the outcry from the media and general public were we to have turned a blind eye to the deceit, benefit fraud and dishonesty just because it was being carried out by one of our own elected members who should know better and from whom the public are entitled to expect a higher level of honesty and integrity.”
Tiverton East county councillor Des Hannon, on behalf of Mr Wilson, said: “Kevin Wilson has been convicted and I’ll not justify his crime. It’s very sad.
“Kevin has stood up for voters against the council every time there was a choice to make.
“He also held the council up to public ridicule.
“He has been a thorn in the bureaucrats’ side.
“In the midst of his own personal Greek tragedy – divorce, depression and desperation – he failed to properly handle his paperwork.
“He got deeper in trouble and told lies in his panic, but, as far as I can see, if he’d done the paperwork properly and taken legal advice he couldn’t afford he’d have been entitled to the money.
“I don’t think we taxpayers have lost out.
“On the other hand I understand the council has spent more than ten times his debt – which he’s already repaying – hiring top QCs to utterly destroy him.
“The judge handed down a short sentence because he intended it would not disbar Kevin from being a councillor. That’s really unusual.
“The judge knew all the facts and I think the council’s entirely out of order to go against the intention of an English court.
“Kevin’ already being punished by the law. Why is the council pursuing this with such extremely expensive vigour when the court has spoken? That’s our money.
“Is it the public interest or something else that makes them take a sledgehammer to this particularly annoying acorn?”
Mid Devon’s next district council election is on May 7, 2015.