Fraud charges against UKIP councillor and wife dropped in favour of lesser, summary offences

Cllr Peter Lagoda.

Cllr Peter Lagoda. - Credit: Archant

Fraud charges against a UKIP county councillor and his wife were dropped in favour of lesser, summary offences when they appeared at Peterborough Crown Court.

John Elworthy,Cllr Peter Lagoda and Cllr Paul Clapp.

John Elworthy,Cllr Peter Lagoda and Cllr Paul Clapp. - Credit: Archant

Their solicitor Julie Massen confirmed to the couple on Tuesday that “the original charges alleged dishonesty whereas the alternative charges to which you pleaded are where you made a representation known to be false”

Cllr Peter Lagoda.

Cllr Peter Lagoda. - Credit: Archant

“Your barristers advised you that these are not offences of dishonesty. The offences for which you were originally charged however were, but these are not.

Cllr Peter Lagoda and John Elworthy.

Cllr Peter Lagoda and John Elworthy. - Credit: Archant

“These are summary only offences and had you been charged with these originally your matter would not have gone to the crown court but would have been dealt by the magistrates’ courts.”

Lagoda has admitted one offence and his wife had admitted six charges relating to a period in 2008 and 2009 when he regularly stayed at her home whilst she continued to claim various benefits.

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His wife’s failure to give “prompt notification” to Fenland Council that he also stayed with her in Appledorn Walk, Wisbech, and later at Frinton Way, Wisbech, meant she received benefits to which she was not entitled.

The one charge against her husband stated that in August 2009 he claimed to have been living at South Beach, Heacham, but was instead living with his partner, now wife, in Frinton Way.

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In an exclusive interview Cllr Lagoda revealed that at the time of the offences he had been switching between staying with his ailing father in Bawsey near Kings Lynn and on two or three nights a week with his then fiancé and later wife Maria.

The couple finally tied the knot in December 2012 and now live in Cocketts Drive, Wisbech.

Cllr Lagoda said the council “dropped all fraud charges against myself and my wife: we are not being done for fraud or dishonesty. I pleaded guilty to not informing them of a change in circumstances.

“The moral of the story is clearly that if you are cohabiting, even on occasions, and either partner is on benefits then you can be prosecuted. I would like to thank Fenland Council for dropping the fraud charges.”

He said his wife is disabled suffering from a degenerative spine disease and was riddled with arthritis in both feet and as well as caring for his father he had cared for her too.

Cllr Lagoda said he was angry that court reports had not made clear the charges to which he had admitted but he hoped soon to be able to put the case behind him and return fully to his council duties.

It is the latest in an eventful life for the 61 year old former bus driver – and former Conservative councillor for Kings Lynn - who spent nine years with the British Army and three years as a reservist in the Royal Transport Corps.

He did two tours of duty in Northern Ireland, served in Cyprus during the war with Turkey, and also served in Germany where he had, surprisingly, served three years in their merchant navy.

Peter Lagoda was born in Southwell Road, Wisbech, but when his mother left home he left his father behind to be brought up for the next seven or eight years in Germany by his grandmother.

He later returned to Wisbech, went to St Peter’s School and later to Queen’s, but at 14 returned to Germany and enlisted in the merchant navy.

He came back to England and then joined the Royal Corps of Transport at Aldershot.

“I ended my term as chauffeur to the deputy constable of Dover Castle,” he recalls.

On returning to East Anglia he settled in Kings Lynn with his first wife who he had married whilst serving with the British army. The marriage lasted 21 years before they separated and he later married his housekeeper who he had hired to help bring up his two children.

After that marriage ended he was living in Heacham and out of the blue got a message from Maria who had been “my childhood sweetheart. I had named my daughter after her and in truth I had loved her all my life and had always dreamed of being with her. We got together, met, liked each very much, and that was pretty much that”.

Although his health remains poor ( he had a heart attack last year and as recently as last week was admitted to hospital again with heart pains) he is determined to put the court case behind and hope those who voted for him will now offer their support.

Of the encounter at Wisbech fire station where he is alleged to have made racist remarks he insists they were neither and were taken out of context but “I answered honestly about my family and my roots. If I’m asked in future about my family I think I have learnt what to say- nothing.”

He added: “I am still the county councillor for Wisbech south; I still have a lot of work to do. I was voted in by the people of Wisbech to look after their best interests and don’t have time to snipe at other councillors unlike some who seem to find time to do so. If they stopped Wisbech would be a far better place in which to live.”

A spokesman for Fenland Council said: “We’re pleased with the outcome. As with all instances of suspected benefit fraud, we conducted a detailed investigation, in conjunction with the Department of Work and Pensions, and our decision to prosecute has been fully vindicated.

“We will continue to take firm action against anyone who attempts to cheat the system by knowingly claiming benefits to which they are not entitled.”

A county council spokesman said: “Cllr Lagoda’s status as a councillor remains unchanged until the outcome of any sentencing hearing is known.

“As such it would be wrong for the authority to comment any further.”

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