A four-time Littlehampton mayor has been jailed after convictions for fraud and forgery left his ‘reputation in tatters’.
A jury last month unanimously convicted Malcolm Belchamber of fraud and forgery – offences committed to help his friend, Osman Koroma.
The 70-year-old, of East Ham Road, showed no emotion as judge Christine Henson dismissed his defence lawyer’s plea for a suspended sentence and jailed him for 18 months.
The judge, who presided over his trial at Hove Crown Court, said his conviction had turned him into a man of good character to one whose reputation was ‘no doubt now in tatters’.
She noted Belchamber’s 38 years of service as a Littlehampton town councillor – but was critical of Belchamber’s dramatic post-verdict outburst proclaiming his innocence to the jury.
She said: “When the jury returned their verdict your outburst to them perhaps showed a glimmer of your true colours.
“You are a man who is clearly used to people doing what you tell them because, no doubt, of your position of authority.”
Belchamber was convicted of both offences he faced, taking place in 2004 and 2014.
In 2014, he produced a fraudulent letter while working at Leaders, claiming Koroma’s rent was increasing, allowing him to claim extra housing benefit.
When police raided Belchamber’s home while investigating the fraud, they found a box file in his wardrobe.
It contained a forged letter purportedly from the Home Office, advising Koroma had indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
The judge said: “You used your position of responsibility at Leaders as a senior estate agent.
“You fall into the lesser harm category but I note this was public money that should have been legitimately given to another. I accept you did not gain personally.
“On count two it is clear you used your position as a local councillor and mayor which you held at the relevant time.”
Judge Henson said the fraud was also aggravated by the fact he blamed Leaders’ colleague Gillian Clifford for producing the letter.
Referencing reports prepared by probation officers ahead of sentencing, she noted their comment that the time between offences suggested a ‘pattern of entrenched behaviour’.
Beverly Cripps, defending, said Belchamber’s family had suffered because of the attention the case had received.
She said one of his foster daughters had been relocated from her office in Littlehampton because of abuse received, with materials circulated around the town about matters ‘not part of this case’.
Ms Cripps said Belchamber cared for 76-year-old wife, who struggled with breathing due to a heart condition.
Despite the mitigation, Belchamber was handed an immediate custodial sentence.
He was sentenced to 12 months for the fraud and six months for forgery, to run consecutively.
Half the 18-month jail term will be served in prison and the remainder on licence.