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Benefit fraudster staying in post
A former mayor handed a suspended prison sentence for committing benefit fraud against his own council has been allowed to keep his position.
Mid Devon District Council has no legal power to remove councillor Kevin Wilson, 55, from his post representing Cranmore Ward in Tiverton.
Mr Wilson received a 10-week suspended sentence with 200 hours of community service at Exeter Crown Court for committing benefit fraud against the authority.
Councillors are only automatically disqualified from their position if they receive a sentence totalling 13 weeks or longer.
Colleagues of Mr Wilson, of Besley Close, Tiverton - who continues to serve as an independent councillor and receive his allowance - have called for his "immediate resignation".
A spokesman for Mid Devon District Council confirmed: "The Council wishes to make it clear that legally it has no power to remove this councillor from office. This is because the Government abolished the previous national disciplinary system for councils as part of the Localism Act 2011, which would have enabled us to take action.
"Councillor Kevin Wilson, who represents Cranmore Ward in Tiverton, committed benefit fraud, lied about it repeatedly to officers investigating the matter to try and cover it up, and only admitted guilt when the case finally came to court and evidence was produced to prove the dishonesty.
"Councillor Wilson has indicated that he does not intend to resign."
Kevin Finan, chief executive of Mid Devon District Council, said the matter would be considered at a full council meeting next Wednesday.
"Had this been a member of staff, we would have suspended them when the allegations were first made and sacked them on the spot when found guilty," Mr Finan said.
"Unfortunately, due to changes in the law, we are prevented from applying the same standards to our elected members.
"The matter will however be considered at the full council meeting on Wednesday 26 February when councillors will vote on a motion condemning Councillor Wilson and calling for his immediate resignation."
Mr Finan said members of the public were welcome to attend the meeting.
The chief executive said claims had been made that the council had made "legal attempts to utterly destroy" Mr Wilson, the former mayor of Tiverton.
"The council has a legal duty to take action where we find fraudulent and criminal behaviour, in this instance one of our councillors," Mr Finan said.
"I believe in these circumstances, any reasonable person would conclude that any damage to his reputation is entirely his own doing. One can only imagine the outcry from the media and the general public were we to have turned a blind eye to the deceit, benefit fraud and dishonesty, just because it was being carried out by one of our own elected members, who should know better and from whom the public are entitled to expect a higher level of honesty and integrity."
Wilson told the Press Association he did not wish to comment on the situation.
Des Hannon, Devon county councillor for Tiverton East, backed his colleague but would not "justify his crime".
Mr Hannon said Wilson had dealt with "his own personal Greek tragedy" of divorce and depression and "told lies in his panic".
"The judge handed down a short sentence because he intended it would not disbar Kevin from being a councillor," Mr Hannon said.
"That's really unusual. The judge knew all the facts and I think the council is entirely out of order to go against the intention of an English court. Kevin's already being punished by the law.
"Why is the council pursuing this with such extremely expensive vigour when the court has spoken? That's our money."