Ex-Hastings mayor jailed for fraud

Paul Smith. File photo SUS-190514-123621001
Paul Smith. File photo SUS-190514-123621001

A former Hastings mayor and ex-councillor has been jailed for defrauding community groups out of tens of thousands of pounds.

Paul Smith, 74, of Addington Grove, Lewisham, London, initially entered no pleas to the charges of fraud by abuse of position when he appeared before Hastings magistrates on April 10.

But on May 8, Smith admitted all four counts when he appeared at Hove Trial Centre.

He appeared in court on Tuesday (May 28) for sentence and was jailed for two years.

Prosecutor Oliver Dunkin said between October 9, 2013 and December 25, 2016 Smith, while treasurer of Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association, abused his position as treasurer by committing fraud, intending to keep £12,276.62 for himself.

Smith, while treasurer of the Castle Ward Forum, committed the same offence between March 31, 2014 and April 1, 2017, intending to keep £7,316.49 for himself.

The court also heard he also committed fraud by abusing his position as treasurer for Hastings and Rye Liberal Democrat Association, intending to keep £4,250.16 for himself between February 15, 2013 and March 5, 2017.

Smith abused his position as treasurer of St Leonards Methodist Church between October 2, 2014 and February 10, 2017 by committing fraud and intending to keep £12,408.15 for himself.

Mr Dunkin told the court Smith, who has no previous convictions, signed off cheques for himself, forging signatures, one of which belonged to someone who had died.

Richard Body, defending, said Smith was ‘deeply ashamed and remorseful’ over what he had done.

Mr Body said: “He feels he has had to leave Hastings because of the shame. He was actively involved in Hastings for many years. Hastings really was his life.”

He said Smith was in financial difficulties and was ‘too proud’ to claim housing benefit and other benefits he was entitled to.

Mr Body said: “This was a deeply foolish crime.”

Sentencing Smith, Judge Shani Barnes said: “This is an indictment that is shocking. A man who has been the mayor and councillor and worked for the community most of his life comes before me at the age of 74 having spent four years defrauding four organisations.

“This was a long-term, systematic act of dishonesty. It was a callous set of offences. The fact that you left the area tells me you walked away from the shame and refused to deal with what you did to the local community.

“You abused the trust of the community while you were in positions of power and trust. You could have applied for housing benefit and other benefits that you were entitled to but you chose a dishonest path.”