‘I didn’t lie to police’, says former Littlehampton mayor on trial for fraud

Malcolm Belchamber arrives at a previous hearing at Worthing Magistrates' Court. Picture by Eddie Mitchell
Malcolm Belchamber arrives at a previous hearing at Worthing Magistrates' Court. Picture by Eddie Mitchell

A four-time mayor of Littlehampton denied using his colleague’s computer to produce a fraudulent letter while she was out of the office on a cigarette break.

Malcolm Belchamber said he had no part in producing the letter, which helped acquaintance Osman Koroma claim increased housing benefit in November, 2014. Taking to the witness box on the third day of his trial on Thursday (June 15), the 70-year-old, of East Ham Road, admitted being pressured by Koroma to do so.

But he said: “(Osman) asked me to produce it a few times and I refused. I have said that the whole way through.”

The court heard on Tuesday how Mr Belchamber and his colleague, Gillian Clifford, were working at the Littlehampton branch of Leaders on November 25, 2014.

His defence barrister asserted Mrs Clifford – who had a previous conviction for benefit fraud – had produced the letter.

Mrs Clifford denied the allegation and told the court she was away from her desk when the letter was created on her computer.

The court heard Mr Belchamber had initially told police he had no knowledge of the letter but later changed his account to say Mrs Clifford ‘did it’.

Mr Belchamber faced cross-examination from Ryan Richter, prosecuting, on Thursday.

He said Koroma had called him on November 25 and he had refused to produce the letter but Mrs Clifford agreed to do so after overhearing the conversation.

But he claimed he had no knowledge of whether she actually did.

He said: “She said she would do it but I was on the phone and she could have typed anything. I have no idea. I didn’t see her do it or ask her to do it. The first time I saw it was in my interview.”

Mr Belchamber said Mrs Clifford threw a letter on his desk shortly afterwards but he did not hand it to Koroma, nor did he know for sure it was the fraudulent letter requested.

Mr Richter argued the defendant’s account was inaccurate.

“You made that letter, didn’t you,” he said, asserting he had taken the chance to commandeer Mrs Clifford’s computer while she smoked.

“Absolutely not,” Mr Belchamber replied.

“With my computer ability there would not have been time to find the letter and to play around with it and delete it in the time she was putting the letters in the post or having a cigarette.”

Despite Koroma urging Mr Belchamber to produce the letter several times, he failed to report it to the police.

“You knew it was going to be used on a fraud on your own council,” Mr Richter said.

After pausing, Mr Belchamber said: “It wasn’t my council. I was on Littlehampton Town Council.”

The court heard on Wednesday that police had not tried to obtain CCTV as the incident had occurred months prior to their investigation. Recordings, they said, were likely to have been overwritten.

Mr Belchamber said he offered to do a lie detector and was told other tests, like checking the handwriting of the letter’s ‘squiggly’ signature, were not possible.

He defended his varied accounts and said he was ‘trying to defend Gillian’ before realising the seriousness of the situation.

“You lied to the police,” Mr Richter said.

Mr Belchamber replied: “I didn’t lie at all. I just didn’t tell them exactly what happened.”

The four-time former mayor and Littlehampton town councillor denies one count of fraud and a count of forgery. The forgery charge relates to a 2004 letter, found in his wardrobe, claiming to be from the Home Office in relation to Koroma’s immigration status.

The trial continues.