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."


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lib Dem Councillor quits over sex offence

A councillor has resigned after being arrested and cautioned by police for a "sexual offence".

Liberal Democrat Eric Griffiths, 64, has stood down less than a month after he was re-elected to Ceredigion council on 1 May.

Dyfed-Powys Police said a 64-year-old man was arrested and cautioned for a sexual offence on Saturday.

The leader of the council's Lib Dems confirmed Mr Griffiths, who represented Aberystwyth's Rheidol ward, had quit.

Mr Griffiths stood down at the weekend.

"I can confirm the resignation, which took place over the weekend," said Ceredig Davies. "I have no further statement to make at the moment."

A spokeswoman for Dyfed-Powys Police said: "On Saturday, 24 May a 64-year-old male from the Aberystwyth area was arrested and cautioned for a sexual offence."

Mr Griffiths was unavailable for comment.

Ceredigion council, which has a total of 42 seats, is run by a coalition of independents, Lib Dems and Labour.

Until Mr Griffiths's resignation, there were 10 Lib Dem councillors. His departure leaves the political make-up of the council finely balanced, with 21 members of the ruling coalition, and 20 others.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

SNP - Drink driving shame

THE Head of Wigtown Licensing Board, Robert Higgins, appeared in handcuffs in Stranraer Sheriff Court on Monday charged with drink driving.
A drink too many at a golf charity event saw him drive home with part of a fence he had demolished en route stuck in the framework of his car.

The Leader of the SNP on Dumfries and Galloway Council, who spent the weekend in police cells, was found by officers on Friday night sitting in his wrecked car outside his home, 'Davaar' in Royal Crescent, Stranraer, smelling of alcohol after leaving a trail of destruction behind him on the A75 Euro-Route.

The embarrassed Councillor stood before Sheriff Tom Millar to plead guilty to the three charges.

The Sheriff fined the SNP Leader of the Council £900, banned him from driving for two years and recommended that he undertake an Alcohol Rehabilitation Course.

Sixty-one year old Cllr Higgins, who won his seat on the Council at last year's May elections, resigned the following day as the chair of the Wigtown Licensing Board and as Council leader of the SNP.

In a statement to the full Council on Tuesday, Cllr Higgins said: "I have advised the Chief Executive of Dumfries and Galloway Council that on Friday, 16th May 2008 I was charged with a number of road traffic offences.

"I appeared at Stranraer Sheriff Court on Monday 19th May and pled guilty to three charges. That is a matter of public record.

"I accept full responsibility for my actions and the consequences. I deeply regret these offences which, apart from fixed penalties for speeding, is my first and, having learned a very salutary lesson, will be my last. I apologise and have asked for the forgiveness of my family and friends.

"I have advised the Scottish National Party of the situation, and have resigned as leader of the SNP Group on Dumfries and Galloway Council with immediate effect. I have also resigned as Chairman and as a member of the Wigtown Licensing Board.

"I apologise to my constituents and assure them that I shall, as always, make every effort to continue to represent them to the best of my ability as a member of Dumfries and Galloway Council.

"Any damage caused to the reputation of Dumfries and Galloway Council and the Scottish National Party is also deeply regretted."

Cllr Higgins was charged with driving without due care and attention on the A75 near Whitecrook Farm, Glenluce, of losing control of his vehicle, travelling along the nearside verge for 81 metres, colliding with and damaging several road hazard marker posts, then crossing onto the opposite carriageway and colliding with a wire fence and a road diversion sign.

He was also charged with failing to stop at the scene and failing to provide two samples of breath for analysis at Stranraer Police Station.

Depute Procurator Fiscal Kay Jardine told the Court that at 7pm on the night in question Higgins was observed by witnesses at the County Golf Course Clubhouse, near Glenluce, as being "under the influence of alcohol and unsteady on his feet." She said that as Higgins had spent much of the day playing golf, bar staff were surprised at his condition as, to their knowledge, he had only drunk two pints of Guinness. But, as bottles of whisky were among the prizes, the staff assumed the Councillor had been sampling the prizes before deciding to drive the eight miles home to Stranraer.

Half an hour later drivers began phoning the police to report debris strewn across the A75 Euro route near Whitecrook Farm road end, a mile from the golf course exit. Cars were seen taking evasive action to avoid hitting the debris and one driver was witnessed stopping to move the debris off the road. But the inebriated Councillor had continued to drive on into Stranraer where, at 7.40pm, his badly damaged car was picked up by a CCTV operator when turning off London Road into Royal Crescent.

The Fiscal said: "The police arrived to find the accused's car with most of the front bumper missing, the air bags deflated and a wooden stob wedged in the offside wheel arch."

Councillor Higgins was then asked to get out of the car but initially he had difficulty doing this due to the damage to the driver's door. Police reported he was "smelling of alcohol, slurring his words, and unsteady on his feet" and he was taken by police car to Stranraer Police Station.

When there, he was asked to provide two specimens of breath for analysis, but the Cllr sucked on the tube instead of blowing into it. He also repeatedly took the tube out of his mouth although instructed not to do so. All attempts to get a satisfactory sample failed and the Cllr was accused by the police of "non co-operation." But Cllr Higgins had replied that he had not failed to co-operate, but his attempts to give a sample were compromised by his need to go to the toilet.

His defence solicitor Paul Feeney said in mitigation that his client was a hard working councillor who was embarrassed to find himself in court for the first time, after driving for 45 years. He said the Councillor recollects having a drink with friends at the golf course but admitted it was an "unexplained act of folly" to then drive home, compounded by his failure to stop after the accident. Mr Feeney added that by the time Cllr Higgins was taken to the Police Station he was in a "state of shock and disorientation" and had little recollection of his attempts to give a breath sample.

The lawyer concluded: "This is a sorry incident and Mr Higgins wants to put it behind him as soon as possible."

Mr Higgins has served Wigtownshire as a Councillor for 15 years.


Liberal councillor denies race charge

Is this the face of a racist? ROFL

A city councillor has been accused of a racially aggravated offence.

Canterbury cllr Jo Calvert-Mindell, 51, a former policewoman who lives in Longmeadow Way, Canterbury, appeared before Folkestone magistrates on Wednesday charged under section five of the Public Order Act and section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

The Crown Prosecution Service claims that on November 8 last year, in Canterbury, “she used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress which was racially aggravated”.

Cllr Calvert-Mindell, who represents St Stephen’s ward, denied the charge and the hearing was adjourned until August 6 for a trial, which is expected to last two days.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Conservative Councillor accused of benefit fraud

A TORY councillor will become the fourth elected representative in Waltham Forest to appear before a court since September.

Former Conservative group deputy leader Graham Sinclair, who represents the Chingford Green ward, is accused of benefit fraud, along with his wife Deborah de la Nougerede.

The couple have allegedly claimed about £8,000 in income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit despite Cllr Sinclair receiving a member's allowance.

Cllr Sinclair's case will not be heard at Waltham Forest Magistrates Court because he is a magistrate.

He will appear instead at Thames Magistrates Court in Bow, next Friday (23).

Cllr Sinclair is the fourth Waltham Forest councillor to be prosecuted in the last eight months.

His prosecution will mean that members from all three political groupings on the council have recently appeared before courts.

In September Miranda Grell was found guilty of falsely claiming an election rival was a paedophile while on the campaign trail in the 2006 local elections.

Clllr Graham Sinclair
Clllr Graham Sinclair

Ms Grell was fined £1,000 and forced to give up her council seat.

A former rising star in the Labour party as former aide to the Deputy Mayor of London's, Ms Grell's political career is now in tatters.

In March Liberal Democrat councillor Imran Abrahim was found guilty of assaulting his teenage wife.

Ambrahim, who had already been kicked out of the Lib Dem group, has since resigned from the council.

In April the Mayor of Waltham Forest Liaquat Ali and his wife were fined for taking their child out of school during term time. The fine was increased to £200 each by the court because the couple had allegedly not paid the original £50.

But the increased fines were later withdrawn after the council's legal team succeeded in persuading magistrates that he had paid the fine after all and a cheque from him had been found in a town hall safe.


Labour councillor illegally claimed benefits

FORMER Hucknall Labour member Simon Harris illegally received benefits after being elected to Ashfield District Council five years ago.
But he failed to tell the Department of Work and Pensions about this new 'job,' Nottingham Magistrates Court heard.

Harris (41), of Hucknall's Washdyke Lane, admitted charges of failing to notify changes in circumstances relating to benefit and not notifying the extent of his earnings.

The court heard that the total he obtained through benefit fraud was £5,598.52.

The magistrates adjourned sentence until next Friday (May 23) for a report to be prepared and Harris was given unconditional bail.

Sheila Mott (prosecuting) said Harris put in a successful claim for reduced earnings allowance after he suffered an accident in 1987. He subsequently became a self-employed taxi driver.

Then, in 2003, he failed to declare becoming a councillor or work he began on a self-employed basis with IBA, who provide equipment for retail firms.

Questioned on March 22 last year, he admitted the offences.

Helen Rooks (defending) said Harris, who had no previous convictions, became entitled to the allowance after suffering an accident to his leg while a Post Office employee.

."He still has problems with the leg," said Miss Rooks. "He cannot stand for long periods and cannot kneel at all."

She told the court that for a time, Harris could not work at all and was having to attend hospital.

But he obtained re-training and started working as a taxi driver – a job he was still doing now, said Miss Rooks..

Then, as well as becoming a councillor, he did some work through friends for IBA, which would have taken him beyond the capacity of the reduced earnings allowance.

"He feels that the situation he finds himself in has cost him his marriage," said Miss Rooks. "He was married for nearly 12 years and ended up with depression, for which he took medication. The work he did for IBA was extremely stressful."

Miss Rooks told the court that Harris had three children aged six, nine and 11, including an autistic son, and they lived with his ex-wife.

"He does not have as much contact with the children as he wants," she said.

"He now lives in rented accommodation. He very much regrets the mess he has found himself in."


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lib Dem Councillor - Evading food bill

A councillor and former MP is being taken to court by a restaurant owner who claims he failed to pay meal bills.

Parmjit Singh Gill, Liberal Democrat city councillor for Stoneygate, denies all the allegations made against him.

Restaurant owner Farid Miah said Councillor Gill owes him £1,115 from eight bills.

Mr Miah said Coun Gill, who was running for Parliament in Leicester South in 2005 - where he was sitting MP after winning a by-election the previous year - set up an account at Vindaloo, in Evington, prior to the General Election and said he would pay when it had finished.

Mr Miah said Coun Gill visited his restaurant several times and brought Liberal Democrat guests including party president Simon Hughes and Treasury spokesman Vincent Cable.

Coun Gill has submitted a defence to the claim, denying all allegations that he owes any money.

In documents to Leicester County Court, he said: "It is denied that I am indebted to the claimant in the sum of £1,115 or at all.

"I note that the eight bills referred to were not attached to the particulars of the claim, leaving me unable to respond in greater detail.

"An account has never been opened by me at this restaurant. I deny this allegation.

"The claimant has made various allegations in the past, all of which have been strenuously denied.

"Prior to May 2005, I had visited the claimant's restaurant on several occasions, and all bills were settled in full.

"By way of background I have been a councillor for the Stoneygate ward of Leicester for almost five years.

"I was a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament from 2004 to 2005. I was the first elected MP from a black and minority ethnic community in the party's history and so have a considerable national profile.

"These fabricated allegations are designed to undermine my good character and integrity as a former MP and existing councillor.

"It is my view that this court is being used in an adverse way to cause me maximum political damage.

"As a matter of personal principle, I will defend to the hilt these and any other false allegations that the claimant makes."

When the Mercury approached Coun Gill about the allegations, he said: "These are false allegations designed to undermine my integrity and good reputation which will be robustly defended."

He declined to comment further.

Mr Miah said of the legal action: "I don't have any choice - I've taken the matter to court." He said he was prepared to call Mr Hughes and Mr Cable as witnesses if necessary.

A hearing was held on April 24 year at Leicester County Court, to decide how the case should be allocated.

Another hearing is set to be held this summer to determine the case.

Coun Gill became MP for Leicester South in a by-election in 2004 following the death of Labour's Jim Marshall.

However, the following year, he lost his seat in the General Election, when it was reclaimed for Labour by Sir Peter Soulsby.

Mr Miah ran as a Conservative candidate against Coun Gill in the local authority elections in 2007, but was unsuccessful.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Labour Councillor - Benefit Fraud

A FORMER councillor is due to appear in court this morning to be sentenced for cheating the benefit system.

Joginder Saroe, a former Labour councillor for Dormer's Wells, has admitted eight counts of falsely claiming incapacity benefits while he was sitting on the council.

It is alleged he was caught using gym equipment and that he was running his own business while claiming the money.

He is due to appear at Isleworth Crown Court today.



A FORMER councillor has been handed a 10-month suspended sentence for cheating the council of more than £45,000 in benefits over seven years.

Joginder Saroe, 62, of Beaconsfield Road, Southall, admitted eight charges of false accounting over housing benefit, income support and Council Tax at Isleworth Crown Court today, while other fraud charges were left on file.

The former British Airways employee was caught using the exclusive David Lloyd gym and driving an expensive Mercedes with a personalised number plate, while claiming disability benefit in 2005.

Saroe, who represented Labour for Dormers Wells, started claiming income support when his market stall business in Bristol collapsed in 1994.

But in August 1998, he started renting out a property he had bought in Glamorgan, Wales, which should have disqualified him from claiming the money.

Prosecutor Rossano Cifonelli told the court: "He was receiving about £250 a week in rental for a flat above a garage-showroom, which was leased out for another £10,000 a year. He did not declare this income and the claims continued.

"There is some background as to how matters came to light. He was claiming disability allowance and there were some differences over how ill he actually was.

"The defendant was, at various times, a councillor and the local press took an interest in his activities and they reported the fact he was on various benefits while attending the gym at the David Lloyd Club.

"Photographs were sent to the Department of Work and Pensions and when he was asked about it, he said he went to the gym because of his back."

"Further investigations revealed the existence of the property in Wales and he was questioned again."

Saroe admitted owning the property, but claimed it did not make a profit, which is why he had not informed the authorities in his claims.

Defending, Lalith De Kauwe, said Saroe, who had led a blameless life up to this point, and handed up a sheaf of testimonials from various members of the community.

He has since sold the property and paid off most of his debts and £10,000 was with his solicitors to repay the money owed to the council.

Mr De Kauwe said: "He understands that he has done wrong and he is prepared to repay that money."

Suspending a 10-month sentence for two years, Judge Andrew MacDowall said benefit fraud always merited a prison sentence because of the effect on the community at large.

He continued: "It is obviously sad that somebody of your age and position should find yourself in the dock.

"For someone such as yourself there is a genuine feeling of shame in the community. There is likely to be a measure of publicity that will be a lasting punishment as well".

In addition, Saroe faces a "confiscation hearing" in August when his financial situation will be considered by the court.



A FORMER Labour councillor who admitted scamming thousands in benefit fraud will find out today when his next hearing will be.

Joginder Saroe, 62, of Beaconsfield Road, Southall, was handed a ten month suspended sentence for scamming more than £45,000 in incapacity and housing benefit.

The former British Airways employee was caught using the exclusive David Lloyd gym and driving an expensive Mercedes with a personalised number plate, while claiming disability benefit in 2005.

Saroe, who represented Labour for Dormers Wells, started claiming income support when his market stall business in Bristol collapsed in 1994.

But in August 1998, he started renting out a property he had bought in Glamorgan, Wales, which should have disqualified him from claiming the money.

Today his lawyers will go to court to iron out details for a confiscation hearing, where the tax man can seizer goods up to the value of his fraud.


Conservative Politician accused of sex attacks

A Tory politician has been suspended by his party after being charged with a series of sex attacks against young girls.

Stephen Mullins appeared before magistrates last week accused of two indecent assaults on females, the rape of another and assault on two further females. All were under the age 16.

He entered no plea and was remanded in custody to appear at a later date.

The married chef, of Links Avenue, Norwich, is a long-serving member of the Norwich North Conservative Association and has served on Hellesdon Parish Council for several years, representing the south east of the community.

It is alleged that the attacks took place over a period of five years but only recently came to light following a police investigation.

At least one of the alleged victims is now an adult. The women cannot be identified for legal reasons.

Last night Shelagh Gurney, chairman of the association, confirmed she had sought legal advice following the charges and the Conservative party area office had been informed. She said Mr Mullins' membership had been temporarily suspended awaiting the conclusion of the case.

She added: “The charges are of a very serious nature and we have got to treat them as such. However, for the time being he is innocent until proven guilty and we are awaiting the outcome of the case.”

A source added that colleagues were shocked by his arrest but were determined to keep an open mind about the charges. But they said the allegations come as an embarrassment in what should have been a positive week for Norwich Tories after they won two seats at the city council elections.

Despite serving on the council for about three years, Mr Mullins, who is in his 40s, is thought to have only sporadically attended meetings.

He has worked as head chef in the kitchen of the Bull pub in Reepham Road, Hellesdon, for 17 years.

No decision has been made on his continued employment at the pub.


Conservative Councillor - Taxi Fracas

A former Tory councillor was this week bound over to keep the peace for his involvement in a racially motivated attack on a cabbie.

Businessman Shaun Smith, 38, had arrived at Manchester Airport with partner Amanda Ahlgreen, 39, when she became involved in a fracas at the taxi rank. Smith arrived on the scene and after a brief row, the police were called and the pair were arrested.

Smith, of Trigg Lane, Chorley, was bound over to keep the peace for 12 months.

At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, Mr Recorder Driver told Smith: "You became involved in a shameful incident of disorder on that night.

"You now know, even if you didn't know it then, your partner had committed a criminal offence against members of the public shortly before you became involved."

Not guilty verdicts were recorded on three charges of racially aggravated harassment, assault by beating and racially aggravated assault by beating, against Smith.

Ahlgreen admitted one count of racially aggravated breach of the peace.

Earlier the court heard the incident occurred in June last year when the couple returned to Manchester Airport where Ahlgreen entered into an argument with the man in charge of the taxi rank during which she made a comment of a racist nature.

Defending Smith, Keith Harrison said: "He was not present when Ahlgreen made the most offensive comments. He does accept he became involved in the incident to a certain extent but he was not present when Ahlgreen made the most offensive comments."

Defending Ahlgreen, Patrick Buckley, said: "In a moment of madness she let slip remarks that were deeply offensive - she deeply regrets them. There has been no repetition since or no incident before this."

Granting her unconditional bail, Mr Recorder Driver said: "You pleaded guilty to a serious offence and the judge who sentences you will have the full range of sentencing options available to him."

Ahlgreen will be sentenced on July 2.

Councillor Smith was elected as a Tory councillor in 2004 with a majority of 256.

Peter Goldsworthy, leader of Conservative-led Chorley Council, said: "At the moment Shaun Smith is not a member of the Conservative party.

"It will be up to a group meeting to be held in the next two weeks to decide whether he is admitted back in."

Donna Hall, council chief executive, said: "In terms of his role as a councillor, he would only have been automatically disqualified if he'd received a custodial sentence of three months or more."

An early report on the Chorley Citizen website, suggested that the charges against Mr Smith be ordered to lie on file and that the charge against Ahlgreen related to racially aggravated harassment.

This was in fact incorrect.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Conservative Councillor - Cancer claim

A newly elected Tory councillor has resigned after he allegedly made up claims that he had been suffering from cancer.

Darren Gilbert, 22, was elected to represent Hatfield Central on Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council during the local elections last Thursday.

But Mr Gilbert yesterday resigned from the post after it was alleged he made up claims that he was suffering from cancer while employed by Tesco.

Mr Gilbert from Hatfield, Hertfordshire, had been employed at the Welham Green depot from November 2003 until last year.

A supermarket source, who didn't wish to be named, said Mr Gilbert had resigned ahead of a disciplinary hearing.

He said the former Tory councillor had made up claims that he had been suffering from testicular cancer.

He said that Mr Gilbert had even created a forged letter claiming to be from a Harley Street clinic detailing his illness.

A Tesco spokesman confirmed that Mr Gilbert had worked for the supermarket giant, but said it was not possible to comment on the employment records of former staff.

Once the allegations of the the claims surfaced an investigation was launched by the council.

Council leader Tory John Dean explained: "It was alleged that Mr Gilbert had made up claims that he had cancer while working in a previous job.

"Unfortunately, at his selection interview he failed to disclose certain aspects of his past employment.

"As soon as the Welwyn Hatfield Association were made aware of this we made our own enquiries.

"Mr Gilbert resigned from his position yesterday. He is no longer a Conservative councillor.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Labour Councillor - Violence

Chesterfield's mayor has been arrested in connection with an alleged neighbourhood dispute involving an axe and a baseball bat.
Chris Ludlow, her husband Kevin and a 30-year-old woman have been questioned by police and released on bail following an incident at a property in Poolsbrook.

Insp Ian Palfreyman, of Derbyshire Constabulary's Chesterfield division, said: "We can confirm there was an incident concerning three people involved in an alleged neighbourhood problem and they have been arrested and are subject to an on-going investigation."

Police state that the alleged incident involved an axe and baseball bat and damage to a door and a window at a property during the early hours of Friday morning.

The 55-year-old mayor, her husband and mayoral consort (49), who run the Victoria Inn at Lowgates, Staveley, and the 30-year-old woman, of Poolsbrook, were arrested on suspicion of causing damage and released on police bail until next month.

Cllr Ludlow has continued her mayoral duties including receiving a cheque from Chesterfield's Flower Lovers group, on Tuesday afternoon, for her Rainbow's End Appeal for worthy causes.

The mother-of-three who also has grandchildren and two step-children became the 367th Mayor of Chesterfield in May, last year, and is due to step down this month when deputy mayor Fred Quayle takes over the role.

Cllr Ludlow is a Labour party member, Staveley town councillor and Middlecroft and Poolsbrook borough councillor.

She has chaired the borough's recreation and leisure committee and is on Poolsbrook School and Norbriggs School board.

Both she, and a borough council spokesman, refused to comment.