Unanswered questions in St Albans councillor's benefit fraud case
PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 August 2015 | UPDATED: 12:00 14 August 2015
Residents have expressed "disbelief" after the Herts Ad reported last week that a Conservative councillor had a case of benefit fraud dismissed despite the council saying they were cracking down.
Simon Calder and his wife, Louise, of Norris Close, London Colney, failed to notify the council about a change of earnings and over-claimed around £3,500 of housing benefit over a period of three years.
The Calders initially rejected an administrative penatly (adpen) for the over-payment and appeared at St Albans Magistrates Court, denying any intent to defraud.
But the case was later dismissed after the law firm working on behalf of the council brought no evidence against the Calders.
Cllr Calder said this week that he has accepted a second adpen on the grounds that the council accepted there was no intent to defarud. He says he is repaying around £3,500 of overpayment plus an adpen of around £1,700.
District councillor Malachy Pakenham said: “It looks like Cllr Calder has been given two bites of the cherry. If he rejected an adpen in the first place, then why didn’t the court case happen, and why has he been allowed to accept an adpen on a second time of asking? It’s astonishing.”
Jean Copley from London Colney - the ward Cllr Calder represents - wrote to the Herts Ad saying: “I do not understand why the council are not coming clean and explaining why they have not prosecuted Mr Calder and his wife when others in similar circumstances have been taken through the court process.
“It’s no wonder people have become so cynical about politics and politicians.”
Melanie Holland, a retired JP from Luton, asked: “Does St Albans council have separate policies for ‘Joe public’ and Tory councillors?
“Should this matter be referred to the scrutiny committee of the council to investigate any wrongdoing?
“As Gordon Hewart said, ‘justice should not only be done, but should be seen to be done’.”
St Albans council again rejected the Herts Advertiser’s enquiries in to Cllr Calder’s case, saying: “The council is not able to comment on individual cases.”
But Cllr Julian Daly, the leader of the council, said: “These allegations date back to before Mr Calder was a councillor and he has been treated no differently to any other person.”
A district council spokesperson confirmed that each case was reviewed to determine whether a caution, an adpen or a prosecution was necessary and that if an adpen was offered and rejected, a prosecution would likely be recommended.
If a defendant later changed their mind and wished to accept the adpen, then the council might decided to discontinue proceedings.
It it not yet clear what was the cost of bringing Cllr Calder to court and whether he has had to cover those costs himself.