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Ex-councillor Chris Basson escapes jail for £11,500 benefits fraud

Suspended sentence for Lib Dem with debt and heroin problems

Published: August 25, 2011

A FORMER Liberal Democrat councillor has been convicted of fraud after failing to declare his earnings from the Town Hall to benefits assessors.

Chris Basson, 54, who resigned from the council in 2009 citing a struggle with depression, was given a 28-day suspended jail sentence on Thursday. He must wear an electronic tracking tag and observe a three-month curfew insisting that he stays at home after 7pm.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court was told that Mr Basson had not notified the Department for Work and Pensions of the extra income that comes with being a councillor.

It meant his incapacity benefit entitlement was overpaid by £11,546.

The court heard that Mr Basson was currently struggling with sizeable debt and was taking medication to beat heroin addiction. He told reporters outside court that he was “sorry for what I have done”. He did not respond to a New Journal invitation for an interview or comment.

The computer software engineer was elected during the boroughwide poll in May 2006. He was part of the Liberal Democrat team which temporarily ousted the Tories from Belsize ward, a three-man line-up which included Alexis Rowell – now a member of the Green Party.

It was often said later that the Lib Dems had never expected to win a clean sweep of Belsize, traditionally held by the Conservatives. It was Mr Basson’s high-rise flat on the Chalcot estate in Fellows Road, however, which was chosen by the party for a photoshoot and interview with the then leader Sir Menzies “Ming” Campbell as polling day approached.

Mr Basson had been involved in a push to get a better deal for tenants and leaseholders during an improvement project hit by a delayed Private Finance Initiative deal.

Alarm bells rang at the Town Hall when during his three years on the council his record was marked by poor attendance. This came to a head in February 2009 when he stepped down. Mr Basson said he had been fighting manic depression for 12 years, predating his entry into local politics. “I have been unable to carry out my duties in the way I wanted,” he added. “I regret that I haven’t had the confidence to talk publicly before now in the way that others, such as Stephen Fry, have.”

The resignation came as the Hampstead and Highgate Express newspaper reported that it had contacted Liberal Democrats about an investigation it had conducted into “aspects of his private life” and matters not connected to his mental health.

The nature of the allegations were not published and after Mr Basson stepped down the paper’s editor, Geoff Martin, wrote: “He has now resigned his position as a councillor – something which clearly should have happened long before now and it would serve no useful purpose to continue our investigation or to publish any evidence relating to it at this stage.”

Questions remained as to the process which had led to Mr Basson’s selection as a candidate and why the Lib Dems had not acted sooner when his attendance record fell.

The party sent out a letter to residents discussing the importance of not disregarding people simply on their history of mental ill-health. Lib Dem leader Councillor Keith Moffitt said at the time that “a history of mental ill-health in itself should not prevent anyone from seeking or holding elected office”.

The Lib Dem group declined to comment on the court hearing.


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