A Yeovil town councillor sentenced to a 12-month community order for "despicable" thefts from the Royal British Legion is legally entitled to continue as a member of the local authority.
Yeovil Town Council issued a statement explaining the situation yesterday after councillor Peter Brock, a former chairman of the charity's Yeovil branch, was sentenced by a district judge at Somerset Magistrates Court, sitting at Yeovil, on three counts of theft from the charity, with a further 20 offences taken into consideration.
Brock, 57, who was nominated to sign cheques going out of the Legion branch's bank account, took a total of £1,231.
At an earlier court hearing the Liberal Democrat councillor admitted stealing £70 in cash on August 8, 2011, £85 on April 4, 2012, and £50 on July 2, 2012. His wife was counter signatory after being elected branch treasurer but knew nothing of his actions.
Judy Morris, prosecuting, told the court the offences came to light after Brock's membership of the club lapsed when he failed to renew a subscription and he was asked to hand back paperwork. An auditor received a letter from the head of membership saying there had been some irregularities with cash in the financial years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. An internal investigation revealed 23 cheques cashed with no corresponding receipts. A meeting was called to discuss it but Brock did not attend.
"He initially denied the offences but then admitted writing the cheques to obtain cash and said his wife had no knowledge. He had cash problems and regretted his actions," said Ms Morris.
Defending solicitor Sam Morton told the earlier hearing that Brock had been under mounting financial pressure.
Sentencing Brock to undertake 150 hours of unpaid work during the 12 months that the community order will run district judge Lynn Matthews told him that before the advent of sentencing guidelines he might have expected an immediate custodial sentence.
"The British Legion is not there to help you through financial difficulties and people would be horrified that you were effectively putting your hand in the till. You were stealing from a charity and that makes this the more despicable," she said. "It is extremely disappointing that you succumbed to temptation not once but repeatedly over a significant period of time. The sentencing guidelines tell me that where a theft or series of offences of thefts total less than £2,000 then the starting point is a medium level community order.
"I accept that you didn't throw suspicion on anyone else and I accept that your motivation was not to cause harm to the British Legion but was purely and simply greed.
"You will have to pay back the money which you stole but you will not regain your good name and these conviction details will have consequences on the prospects of your standing as a town councillor in the future and of the prospect of anyone in the British Legion wanting to have anything to do with you. You will simply not be trusted."
Brock must also pay compensation to the British Legion of £1,231, £85 in costs and £60 court surcharge.
Brock's wife sat in the court to hear the sentence and the couple left together. When asked whether he intended to resign his seat the councillor said: "No comment."
In a statement Yeovil Town Council said: "The sentence passed by the court is insufficient to result in councillor Brock's automatic disqualification from holding public office. Accordingly, he is legally entitled to continue as a member of the town council should he so wish, and the council has no power to remove him from office.
"The charges relate solely to his activities with another organisation."
The Liberal Democrat whip of the town council group was withdrawn when he was charged and he currently sits as an independent.