TWO married councillors quit just before benefit fraud charges against them were made public.
Tory Castle Point councillors Alan, 49, and Kate Meager, 55, stunned fellow members with their abrupt resignation from their posts in St Mary's ward, Benfleet, earlier this month.
The couple are understood to have written a formal letter to council leader Pam Challis before going on holiday.
Mrs Challis said: "I have accepted Kate and Alan Meager's resignation as they have informed me they have sold their house and are moving out of the area."
Hours later, chief executive David Marchant said: "I can confirm Mr and Mrs Meager have been investigated by our benefits team and, as a result, will appear at Southend Magistrates' Court on Monday, November 26. We are unable to comment further while the case is still active."
Mrs Meager was first elected as a St Mary's ward councillor in May 2003 and was re-elected in May this year. Mr Meager was elected in May 2006, also for St Mary's.
A notice of election was published yesterday. The council must receive a minimum request from two registered voters to hold a by-election.
This must be held within 35 working days, meaning residents could go to the polls over the Christmas period.
Councillors who spoke to the Echo yesterday appeared unaware of the full extent of the reasons for Mr and Mrs Meager's resignations.
David Cross, the remaining councillor for St Mary's ward said: "I understand they are moving away - that is what I heard. It's a shame because they were both excellent councillors."
Dave Blackwell, Canvey Independent Party leader, said: "It's come as a bit of a shock.
"But it has opened up the way for two by-elections. There are people willing to stand as Canvey Indepen-dents, so we could see the first Independent councillor elected on the mainland."
Mr and Mrs Meager run a party business called Huff'n'Puff, in London Road, Westcliff.
The Echo tried to contact the couple at home and at their offices, but a message said they were away until November 22.Update March 19/2008
Tory councillors Alan and Kate Meager jailed for benefit fraud
Two Tory councillors were jailed yesterday for swindling their own council in a benefits scam.
Alan, 49, and Kate Meager, 55, had their own business, a US holiday home, and a rented-out flat but claimed £3,400 in council tax benefits.
Judge David Cooper at Chelmsford magistrates court in Essex jailed the couple for 28 days.
He said: "You have both shown cynical and breathtaking dishonesty and greed over many years."
Mrs Meager, of Benfleet, Essex, said she was a single parent and didn't tell Castle Point council she got tax credits.