A disgraced former councillor has pleaded guilty to stealing thousands of pounds intended for the upkeep of a housing estate in West Barnes.

Tony Giles, who was thrown out of Merton Council in January 2003, admitted stealing more than £16,000 from West Barnes tenants' management organisation (TMO) at Kingston Crown Court.

The theft was first discovered after a routine audit of the TMO in April 2002 by Merton Council showed tens of thousands of pounds worth of grants were missing.

The council called in Wimbledon CID and gave them audit papers to help them with their investigation.

Giles, of Farnham Gardens, Raynes Park, was elected as its chairman in July 1997, working alongside three other elected residents of the estate.

The TMO was suspended in December 2002 and since then, the council has taken charge of the upkeep of the estate.

Giles was elected Labour member for the Ravensbury ward in May 2002.

The stolen money was given in grants to the TMO, which managed the caretaking, cleaning and grounds maintenance for the 422-home estate.

Once the disappearance of the money was uncovered, leader of the Council Andrew Judge forced Giles to quit as a councillor.

Mr Judge made it clear then that his expulsion had nothing to do with his conduct with the council, but that the "serious concerns with the management of the TMO" meant he was clearly in no position to continue as a councillor.

His departure triggered a by-election, which was won by Labour Councillor Stephen Alambritis in March 2003.

Giles has pleaded guilty to 18 counts of false accounting and one of theft.

The Crown Prosecution Service has already discovered that £16,000 is unaccounted for, but is still totalling up the missing money and believes it is likely to be more.

Giles initially faced similar charges to the ones he has now pleaded guilty to four of theft and five of false accounting but these were dropped pending further work in July 2003.

When the new charges were brought last year, he initially pleaded not guilty, changing his plea just over a month before his trial was due to start.

The council has declined to comment on Giles' admission until he is sentenced, a date for which will be fixed in May.