Derry and Strabane Sinn Fein councillor cleared of benefit fraud charges

Cllr Colly Kelly
Cllr Colly Kelly

A Sinn Fein Derry and Strabane District Cllr has been acquitted of benefit fraud charges and the judge has said the party should consider repaying any money owed.

30-year-old Colin Kelly of Kildrum Gardens in Derry had faced four charges of failing to declare a change in circumstances and one charge of making a false declaration in relation to claiming £19,000 in benefits between November 2010 and March 2014.

Derry Magistrate's Court heard from the defence that the facts were not in dispute but the issue was whether there was any element of dishonesty in Colr. Kelly's actions.

Giving evidence on his own behalf Colr. Kelly said he had been claiming Job Seekers Allowance since 2008.

He said he was co-opted onto Derry City Council in 2010 and received an allowance which went straight into a bank account to which he had no access whatsoever.

The councillor said that he had no 'card, no cheque book no access at all' to this particular account and that all his allowance went straight to Sinn Fein.

He told the court he had been re-elected to the council in 2011 and 2015 and received expenses from the party for his travel and his telephone.

The Sinn Fein councillor said that when he became aware of the situation that he might be doing something wrong he tried to rectify it and had been paying back £85 a month since the start of this year.

He also agreed that when filling out a renewal form for his JSA in 2012 he had ticked the box asking was he receiving any expenses.

In response to questions from the prosecution Cllr Kelly said he had 'made a mistake' in not declaring he was doing unpaid work.

In summing up the defence for the Sinn Fein councillor said that 95% of the Crown case had been proved but 'there has to be dishonesty.'

Deputy District Judge Brian Archer said Kelly had been in receipt of money that had not been declared.

He said if the money had been paid directly to Kelly he would have convicted him but added that he had 'a lurking doubt' and the prosecution had not proved their case.

Acquitting the councillor of the offences the judge said that in light of the fact that the money was paid to Sinn Fein the party should consider repaying the outstanding debt.

Speaking outside the court Colr. Kelly said it had been 'an honest mistake'.