Saturday, May 31, 2008

Labour councillor - Fraud

A FORMER Cambridge councillor has been tagged and put under curfew for falsely using a disabled parking badge.

Louise Downham, who stepped down as a Labour member of the city council at elections in May, was caught by her own council using a pass which belonged to a former neighbour.

Home - Louise Downham
Louise Downham
Downham, 37, represented King's Hedges and was known as a community-minded councillor. On the Cambridge Labour website, she listed "making life easier for the disabled" as one of her aims.

Downham, of Dunsmore Close, Cambridge, pictured, was arrested in April after complaining about a parking ticket left on her Seat Ibiza. City council parking officers looked into the complaint and discovered she was using the badge falsely.

Appearing before magistrates in Cambridge, Downham pleaded guilty to a charge of using a false instrument between June 21 2007 and January 8 2008 with intent it be accepted as genuine.

She was tagged for a two-month 8pm to midnight curfew and ordered to pay £60 towards court costs.

The offence was exposed when Christopher Casboult, who works for Cambridge City Council parking services, looked into the complaint about the ticket, which was issued in January this year. He discovered Downham's vehicle had been issued with other tickets previously - which she had also challenged.

Photo records showed the same blue badge was displayed in the vehicle in January as in June last year. The only difference was the expiry date had been altered.

It turned out the badge had been registered to Downham's former next-door neighbour, who had emigrated to the USA three years earlier. It expired in July 2007.

Police arrested Downham at her home on April 14 and she concocted a series of stories to explain away her use of the badge, magistrates were told.

Eventually she came clean and admitted: "I'm bang to rights. It's not easy doing this job and being a mother. I had to use the badge to get to meetings on time."

Downham was described in court as a dedicated volunteer and charity worker who suffers from narcolepsy, a condition which induces sudden sleep.

A campaigning group for the disabled said the sentence handed to Downham was not tough enough, as parking spaces are essential for disabled people.

A spokeswoman for the United Kingdom's Disabled People's Council said: "It's hardly a deterrent - a tag for two months. Disabled people often rely on available car parking spaces in order to do things, go to work, do the weekly shop and have a life, as they often have no choice."

Councillor Lewis Herbert, leader of the Labour group on Cambridge City Council, said Downham had decided to stand down in autumn 2007.

Of the court case, he said: "It is not something I had any knowledge about. It is only a year since she had a new baby and I think she was finding it very difficult to balance family life with quite a demanding ward."


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