A FORMER Mayor of Tiverton convicted of swindling his own council says he is considering his position.
Councillor Kevin Wilson pleaded guilty to two charges of fiddling housing and council tax benefit from Mid Devon council in a dramatic twist at his trial at Exeter Crown Court.
He was half way through giving his account to the jury when new evidence emerged which undermined his story and he changed his plea after discussions with his legal team.
Wilson claimed almost £4,000 in benefits which he was not entitled to by hiding £1,943 a year income from a pension which he had cashed in early.
He used the money to pay part of the school fees for his 16-year-old daughter, who attended the £9,000 a year Wellington School until leaving last year.
When first challenged about the money in his bank account by officials at Mid Devon he told them it came from selling a car on eBay.
He later changed his story after checks showed this was not the case but told the jury that he must have sold the car for cash and been confused when he spoke to officials.
Inquiries made during the trial by the police suggested he had never sold the car and this fresh evidence arrived at court on the third morning of his trial.
Lib Dem councillor Wilson, 55, of Besley Close, Tiverton, admitted two charges of making false representations to obtain benefit. He admitted failing to disclose not only the £1,943 pension income but also around £200 he was paid by the Central Devon Liberal Democrats for writing press releases and leaflets.
Recorder Adrian Hughes, QC, adjourned the case for a pre sentence report and released Wilson on unconditional bail.
Defence barrister Lee Bremridge explained his client’s change of plea to the jury on Tuesday last week.
He said: “At the start of the trial we had information disclosed by the prosecution relating to the Mercedes car and the sale of that car.
“Following investigations carried out by the prosecution we have had more detailed information disclosed to us this morning. The Judge gave us permission to talk to Mr Wilson about it, even though he was giving evidence. Those discussions have taken some time and as a result of the further information the decision has been made by the defendant to enter guilty pleas.”
During the three-day trial the prosecution alleged Wilson fiddled £3,866.81 benefits to afford the £595 a month rent on his two-bedroomed home.
He filled in two forms in which he was required to list his pension income but did not do so.
Martin Meeke, QC, prosecuting, said Wilson had lied to investigators by telling them that the money going into his account in 2011 was from the sale of the car which he bought to bolster his image while Mayor.
He hid the £1,943 payment in 2012 by putting it into an account which he did not declare.
Wilson, who worked for Devon County Council as an administrator until being made redundant in 2011, told the jury he had not declared his pension earnings because they were being used solely for his daughter’s education.
He said he and his wife could afford to send her to Wellington School in Somerset when she started in 2008 but they split up shortly afterwards and he ran into serious financial problems.
He said he made an arrangement with the bursar that his pension income would be paid to the school until the debt for the fees was paid off. At present it stands at £17,659.93.
He said he was made redundant after being off sick long term with stress and depression and lost control of his finances.
He told the jury: “I felt the payment I was using for my daughter’s education did not have to be filled in on the form because of what I had researched on the internet.
“I did not have a handle on my financial situation. I was living from hand to mouth. Every day was a struggle. I was surviving with help from my family.”
Any elected councillor receiving a sentence of three months or more would be disqualified from holding office for a period of five years.
After his conviction Cllr Wilson, who represents the Cranmore ward on the district council and is also a town councillor, said he had received several messages of support from fellow councillors and was considering his future.
Mid Devon District Council, which brought the case, said it would not comment in the change in plea and was awaiting the final decision of the court before making any further comment.
But chief executive Kevin Finan did say in a statement: “District councillors are elected by the public and are obviously put in a position of trust. It is regrettable when an individual fails to live up to that position of trust.”