A COUNCILLOR who pleaded guilty to three counts of benefit fraud totalling nearly £3,000 has been given a curfew and ordered to carry out unpaid community work.
But Tony Brice, 67, who represents the Lindley ward on Kirklees Council says he is determined to appeal and to retain his position on the council despite his Conservative group disowning him last year when the 21-strong group voted to expel him.
Magistrates in Halifax heard yesterday that Brice had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in Dewsbury to obtaining £2,977.32 in benefits to which he was not entitled.
For the prosecution, Samantha Lawton, said the offences related to non-disclosure of information beginning in May 2010 regarding pension income, an HSBC Isa account and a savings account.
This was compounded in July that year by his failing to notify the authorities that there had been a change in his financial circumstances – namely he had been receiving a second pension of £67 a month for five months.
Then in October he failed to declare an increase in income from a pension which had risen from £392 to £442.
Ms Lawton said he had a number of opportunities to notify the council of the changes during 2010 but failed to do so.
“The application was false from the outset and had a good knowledge of the benefits system,” she told the court.
Bill Rawstron, defending, said Brice of Belmont Close, Highfields, in Huddersfield, had not been a member of the council at the time the offences were committed after losing his seat that year and one of the most important factors in mitigation was his client’s poor mental state at the time.
“At the time the defendant was charged with matters of deception and to his dying breath he will deny that he behaved dishonestly,” he said, adding that Brice was originally facing three allegations of dishonest benefit fraud though the dishonest aspect was later withdrawn.
Mr Rawstron said a doctor’s report revealed him as “a man who was going through a greatly stressful and difficult time” and both members of the public and members of other political parties had provided character references saying that ‘this is not a dishonest man but a man of industry and determination’.
“He is still in employment,” he added. “This is not a case of dishonesty. The offences were committed at a time when he had lost his seat.
“He is a man in his sixties who is of impeccable character and clearly a man of integrity. He acted not in character and in a way that was unfortunately due to stress-related medical problems.”
Chairman of the bench George Salter told Brice he would have to pay £1,908 in costs at £159 a month for 12 months.
He imposed a curfew on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 10pm to 10am and sentenced him to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work for the benefit of people at large.
Afterwards, Brice said: “I am not very happy with the sentence.”
Mr Rawstron added: “We are actively considering an appeal against the sentence.”
Brice’s future on the council is uncertain – it is expected he will have to appear before Kirklees Council’s Standards Committee at a date yet to be fixed.
Brice, who was first elected to represent Lindley in 2004, was suspended from the Conservative Party in October last year when the allegations came to light.
In December he was expelled from the Tory group on Kirklees Council and Brice said he would stay on as an independent councillor.
Tory group business manager Coun Christine Smith said at the time the decision to expel him was made on a permanent basis and was agreed by all members, reflecting the seriousness of the charges.