An agent who appeared to have been a pillar of the community has been imprisoned for fraud.
Malcolm Belchamber, who had been dismissed by his employer Leaders for gross misconduct, was regarded as so respectable that he was four times mayor of Littlehampton, in Sussex.
He has now been sentenced to a total of 18 months in prison at Hove Crown Court, for two offences of fraud.
Belchamber, 70, was convicted last month at the same court.
During his trial, he tried to pin the blame on colleague Gillian Clifford, who strongly denied the accusation from the witness box
He has now received a sentence of 12 months for having stated in a letter to Arun Council, in West Sussex, that a tenant’s rent had gone up – which meant the tenant was entitled to a higher rate of housing benefit. However, the landlord did not confirm that the rent had gone up by that time, and when the confirmation came, it did not show as high an increase.
Belchamber received a further six months in jail, to run consecutively, after forging a letter from the Home Office, which said that the tenant, from Sierra Leone, had indefinite leave to stay in the UK.
The prosecution followed an investigation by detectives which began when information was supplied by Leaders during a separate police investigation into the tenant, Osman Koroma.
Koroma and his accomplice Max N’Gasa were last year jailed for 14 and 11 years respectively for using the flat, let to them by Belchamber when he was at Leaders, for grooming and abusing young girls.
The case horrified the town.
Although Belchamber, 70, was a Littlehampton town councillor at the time of the offences, it has been stressed they were unrelated to his council work.
Chief Inspector Justin Burtenshaw said: “Belchamber plainly felt that he was above the law and wouldn’t be troubled by a criminal investigation.
“He was prepared to lie and blame a co-worker for an offence which ultimately defrauded public money.
“His sentence reflects the seriousness of the offences, which sits in stark contrast to the conduct the public would expect of someone in his position.”
Daniel Dowling, legal and compliance director at Leaders, told EYE: “Malcolm Belchamber joined Leaders in 2012 when we acquired The Letting Shop in Littlehampton and Worthing. He was dismissed for gross misconduct two years ago, in June 2015, following a thorough investigation carried out by Leaders in cooperation with Sussex Police.
“We have worked with the police throughout this time, offering our full assistance to their own investigation, which resulted in the successful trial and conviction of Mr Belchamber.”