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'Give voters power to sack councillors' - calls for recall after ex-Kingston councillor Tim Dennen sentenced for benefit fraud
Voters should be given the power to throw out councillors who abuse their positions, politicians in Kingston have said.
The call for a Parliamentary-style Recall Bill for local authorities came this week after former Kingston councillor Tim Dennen narrowly avoided jail for benefit fraud.
Dennen, 57, of York Road, Kingston, dishonestly or fraudulently claimed £3,611 in council tax benefits between January 2008 and June 2010.
He pleaded guilty to seven charges two weeks after May’s local elections, where he had stood as a candidate.
Despite being thrown out of the Liberal Democrats, he continued to represent Canbury as an independent for two years, while Kingston Council carried out a prolonged investigation into his finances.
He also continued to receive the £7,528-a-year councillor’s allowance during that time, before standing for re-election.
Had he been re-elected, Kingston Council could well have had a convicted benefits cheat at Guildhall for the next four years without any recourse for dismissal.
Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Liz Green said: “I absolutely think Tim should have stepped down, and I can’t understand the mentality of running for council again.
"We removed him from the group but we can’t make him step down.
“The only person who can get rid of a councillor is the councillor. We can’t actually do anything.”
Councillors can only be disqualified if they are convicted of a crime which carries a prison sentence of at least three months.
Dennen’s offences carried a maximum jail term of six weeks.
Magistrates in Wimbledon on Friday told Dennen they “seriously considered” jailing him before sentencing him to 200 hours of community service and ordering him to pay £7,000 in costs.
Coun Green said she would support a system of recall similar to the one being fought for in Parliament by north Kingston MP Zac Goldsmith.
She said councillors should be subject to recall if convicted of a crime.
Mr Goldsmith’s proposals go further, allowing constituents to effectively sack their MP if at any point they have lost faith in them.
If, however, an MP is going through legal proceedings, the recall process would be paused until their case is concluded.
Zac Goldsmith has been fighting for the power to recall MPs
Although recall would not have prevented Dennen from seeking re-election, had he won, Canbury ward residents could have launched a petition calling for him to be sacked after his conviction.
Dennen was voted out after polling just 188 votes, finishing in last place.
Mr Goldsmith said: “I strongly believe it should be possible to recall any and all representatives, from the council to the cabinet.
”There is no argument against recall that is not also an argument against democracy itself.”
But Kingston Council leader Kevin Davis was sceptical.
He said: “I think it’s certainly an interesting idea but in reality I’m not sure it would work.
”Giving people the vote is difficult enough, and if you work with the current Recall Bill of 10 per cent of constituents signing a petition to get an MP recalled, you're talking about six or seven hundred people in a local ward.”
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