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21 Jun 2017

Ex-Mayor facilitated benefit fraud

Four-time former Littlehampton mayor Malcolm Belchamber has been found guilty of fraud and forgery offences. The town councillor of four decades was convicted on Monday (June 19), following a five-day trial at Hove Crown Court, the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed. He will be sentenced on July 24.

Belchamber, 70, denied producing a fraudulent letter to help acquaintance Osman Koroma claim increased housing benefit in November, 2014.

The experienced public servant, who was working at the Littlehampton branch of Leaders at the time, claimed colleague Gillian Clifford had written the letter. Mrs Clifford strongly denied the accusation when she took to the witness box.

Belchamber also denied forging a Home Office letter, which sought to claim Koroma had indefinite leave to remain in the UK. The court heard how the letter, dating back to 2004, was found in a box file in Mr Belchamber’s bedroom wardrobe when police raided his home in connection with their investigation into the 2014 fraud. He claimed he had copied it for Koroma at the time but had not studied the contents and did not know what it was for.

Koroma did not give evidence during the trial. He is currently serving time in prison after being convicted of child sex offences in 2016. Belchamber’s case is not linked to the investigation into Koroma.

The jury of six men and six women retired to consider their verdict on Monday. They convicted him of making a false article for use in fraud and making a false instrument with the intention it would be accepted as genuine. Belchamber was dismissed from Leaders for gross misconduct following an investigation into the 2014 letter. The letter, written to Arun District Council on November 25, advised the authority of an apparent increase in Koroma’s rent. It prompted an increase in Koroma’s housing benefit.

Evidence of wrongdoing only came to light after Koroma’s landlord asked Leaders to increase the rent, shortly after Arun received the fraudulent letter. The actual rent increase was less than the £650 monthly fee quoted in the fraudulent letter, leading Arun to question the decrease.

Speaking after the verdict, Arun chief executive Nigel Lynn said: “Arun District Council support the prosecution of Malcolm Belchamber on housing benefit fraud. “We are always on alert for housing benefit fraud and we will take appropriate action against people we believe are fraudulently claiming benefit from the public purse.”

Belchamber, who was Littlehampton mayor between 1982/83, 1992/93, 2004/05 and 2006/07, was made an MBE in 2004 for services to the town. Several witnesses told the court of his good character. They included Littlehampton Cricket Club stalwart Hugh Milner, who described Belchamber as an ‘incredible supporter of the community’. Veteran county, district and town councillor Dr James Walsh also attested to Belchamber’s good work. He said: “I am utterly shocked and in disbelief because it goes totally against everything I have known of his character over the best part of 40 years. He has been a model of rectitude and somebody who you would always trust with anything.”

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