A former Melton borough councillor must do 120 hours’ unpaid work and pay costs of nearly £7,000 after being convicted of three offences of dishonestly failing to notify Melton Council of changes in his circumstances affecting his entitlement to claim council tax benefit.
Yesterday (Friday) a jury at Leicester Crown Court found Gary Bush guilty, by a 10-2 majority, on all three counts committed between 2011 and 2013.
The court heard that Bush (58) didn’t tell the council that, between July 18, 2011 and January 31, 2012, he’d earned about £4,500 while working for the company ADT. Bush claimed this was an honest oversight on his part but the prosecution suggested his actions were deliberate.
The jury also heard that Bush, of Grange Drive, Melton, hadn’t told the council he was in receipt of Ministry of Defence (MOD) pension income which included a lump sum payment of about £20,000 as well as a monthly payment of about £430.
Bush claimed he’d written to the council in September 2012 to tell them about his pension income, before he’d started receiving it, but the prosecution claimed this was a lie and no letter was written.
Prosecutor Simon Hunka told the jury it was some 18 months later, in March 2014, that Bush told the council about his monthly pension income but he made no mention about the lump sum, claiming he deliberately hadn’t disclosed this information because it would have shown he had assets of over the prescribed limit of £16,000 meaning he wouldn’t have been entitled to council tax benefit.
He said: “The defendant had to tell lie after lie to cover his tracks . He was saying he had less money than he truly had but the truth caught up with him.
“He received money he wasn’t entitled to but he had money readily available to make it right but he still didn’t do it.”
Bush said he hadn’t told the council about the lump sum because he didn’t think it was necessary as, having told the authority about his pension income, it wouldn’t have changed his circumstances because he already wouldn’t have been entitled to any council tax benefit.
The jury heard that when Bush was asked to provide bank statements to the council, after he’d told them in March 2014 about his pension income, he hadn’t sent an entire month’s documents.
The prosecution said Bush had deliberately chosen not to send the full documentation because the council would have known about the lump sum going into his bank account before it was swiftly moved into another of his accounts.
But Alec Williams, defending Bush, said that although the defendant had made mistakes he hadn’t been dishonest, had made ‘no attempt to deceive’ the council or hide this money, highlighting it was Bush who contacted the council about his pension income.
The court was told that when Bush filled out a review form in June 2012, asking for details of his income and assets, he only mentioned one of his current accounts, which had about £400 in it at the time. This resulted in his council tax payments reducing from £53 a month to just £8 per month.
But Bush failed to mention he also had just over £1,500 in an individual savings account (ISA). The court also heard the council was uninformed about £10,000 he’d put in an investment account set up in 2013.
Bush told the court he hadn’t told the council about his ISA because he ‘never perceived this to be an account’. He added: “It was my misunderstanding what an ISA was, It was an oversight rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead the council.”
The jury heard that Bush had been serving as an elected Melton borough councillor during the period he received about £1,500 which he wasn’t entitled to. This money has since been repaid, with the council clawing it back by increasing his council tax payments.
It was stressed by Bush’s defence that although he was a councillor at the time, there was no abuse of his position.
The jury also heard Bush was a man of previous good character who had no previous convictions.
Passing his sentence, recorder Jeremy Benson QC told Bush: “It’s quite clear the jury disbelieved you. You knew jolly well as the result of the lump sum you received your assets would be over the £16,000 limit and therefore you wouldn’t be entitled to council tax benefit.
“In my judgement you deliberately sent in bits of bank statements so the council wouldn’t see the lump sum going into your account and the amount you had in that account before transferring it to another account.
“When the council sent you the review form to fill in you knew they wanted to know what assets you had.
“It’s an aggravating feature of the case that you were an elected representative of the public on a council that you dealt with dishonestly.”
He was given a 12-month community order, including a requirement to do 120 hours’ unpaid work, and ordered to pay £6,904.86 costs within the next six months.
Bush is no longer a Melton borough councillor. He stood for election, as an Independent, for the Melton Craven ward at the borough elections in May.
Having served on the council for four years he lost his seat, receiving the fewest votes of the five candidates.
Speaking to the Melton Times after his sentencing Bush said: “Nothing I did was deliberately dishonest. I can’t apologise for something I haven’t done.”