Ex-councillor denies fraud

Emma McGurrin
Emma McGurrin

A FORMER councillor accused of cheating Wigan Council out of £1,900 with bogus claims for child care allowances has denied the allegations.

Emma McGurrin told a jury that the childcare she claimed for had been provided and she had not acted dishonestly.

She said that school records showing her daughter had been at school and not in the care of a childminder were “inaccurate”.

The 36-year-old, who was elected Labour councillor for the Standish with Langtree ward in May 2010, has pleaded not guilty to nine fraud offences, covering numerous occasions when childcare had allegedly been provided.

As well as a basic allowance of £11,682 she was also entitled to certain other allowances but it was only in September 2012 that McGurrin, whose daughter was born in 2006, became aware she could claim for childcare costs.

Geoffrey Lowe, prosecuting, has told a jury at Liverpool Crown Court that the claims submitted by her between September 2012 and February 2013 were bogus.

The two women named in the claims have told the court that they had not provided the care claimed. One of them, Michelle Taylor, has admitted she had signed four of them and has been sentenced to a community sentence by Wigan magistrates.

Giving evidence today McGurrin, of Collett Close, Scholes, told how she worked as a youth and community co-ordinator for Lancashire County Council for seven years before becoming a freelance consultant.

McGurrin, who had been a Labour Party member from the age of 16, then decided to go into local politics, she said.

It was only in 2012 that she learnt she could claim for childcare after she took her daughter to a Labour group meeting. She had used nursery nurse, Kate Aspey, to help out when she went in Ireland on business and so asked her if she minded using her name on a claim form for childcare in August 2012 and she agreed, she said.

McGurrin claimed that council officials, who needed clarification about whether only a registered childminder could be used, approved of this course of action and one of them completed the form for £94 and she signed it. Ms Aspey has denied providing care or allowing her name to be used. Asked about the forms for the care allegedly provided by Michelle Taylor, McGurrin explained they had been friends via Taylor’s brother, who later committed suicide.

She said she had provided the care claimed and denied writing down the details for Taylor to copy. She maintained that Taylor provided the care claimed for and after she had been reimbursed in cash she would pay her. Sometimes she said she was struggling and would pay her in advance.

The claims ceased in February last year and McGurrin said in that month or March Taylor kept ringing her phone and that of her boyfriend between 1-3am one morning.

She then turned up outside McGurrin’s home incoherently screaming which brought all the neighbours out. McGurrin claimed that Taylor had gone back to using drugs and wanted her boyfriend to help her sort out drug debt problems.

“I was scared to death, I was afraid of her and I still am because she suspected I had spread the rumour that she was back on drugs.”

Cross-examined by Mr Lowe she agreed that she had turned up at Taylor’s home in June at 1.45am and said she had gone round “to offer an olive branch” but Taylor’s boyfriend called the police.

She said she had only drunk two bottles of Budweiser and denied being under the influence of drugs. She also denied having ever used cocaine.

Quizzed about her police interview in September last year she admitted she had been “vague, elusive and not straightforward”.

She said that the council officials were being questioned by audit investigators in parallel and she had not wanted to “drop them in it” and assumed they would clarify the situation and clear her.

McGurrin said she has since been left completely isolated. “I should have told the truth, I didn’t know they were going to hang me like this.”

Mr Lowe suggested she was lying rather than the two women said to have minded her daughter. He said: “I suggest you are a devious woman and you are trying to talk your way out of it.”