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Housing officer jailed for £300k fraud despite absence of personal benefit

A former Southend-on-Sea Borough Council housing officer who is also a noted escapologist has been jailed for a fraud from which the court accepted he did not personally benefit.

The BBC has reported that Basildon Crown Court heard Stuart Burrell defrauded the council of £300,000.

He forged invoices and letters from housing suppliers saying he wanted to help "put a roof over people's heads".

Mr Burrell was jailed for 18 months after he pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud by abuse of position and one of attempted fraud by abuse of position.

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The court was told how he cut corners to give public funding to two Southend housing projects after rule changes meant they may not have been eligible.

He also invented invoices to pay rent for a family without a home just before Christmas 2016.

A Southend spokesperson said: “The integrity of all council staff is vital and depended upon, particularly when those staff are in positions of trust and responsibility.

“When concern was raised, our finance team took immediate action, leading to a detailed investigation by our counter-fraud directorate and human resources team. Mr Burrell was suspended and is no longer employed by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.

“The speed and professionalism of this investigation enabled the charges to be brought. We are reviewing our internal procedures to help minimise the risk of this happening again.”

Mr Burrell advertised his escapology expertise on at least one website.

It described him as “an inspirational British multiple world record breaking escapologist and stamina based weight lifter”, who could give “gripping talks [that] contrast immensely powerful stories with well-placed humour to not only captivate and motivate audiences, but also to challenge their concepts and ideals”.

Mark Smulian

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