Shamed ex-councillor: Jail strengthened me

Former councillor Emma McGurrin
Former councillor Emma McGurrin

A DISGRACED ex-councillor jailed for fiddling her town hall expenses has spoken for the first time of her spell behind bars.

Emma McGurrin was jailed for eight months for fraudulently claiming £1,700 in childcare in January.

On my first night, a woman who was in for murder tried to steal my tobacco and I stood up to her

Former councillor Emma McGurrin

But despite becoming involved in a number of community projects since her release, the 36-year-old has vowed never to return to politics.

“I have no interest in re-entering politics,” she said. “Being a councillor ruined my life.”

The former Labour representative for Standish told how being sent down for expenses fraud was a “very dark period” in her life but she was determined to turn the experience to her advantage.

While jailed in HM Styal Prison, Ms McGurrin, who served 11 weeks of her term, gained a number of qualifications in radio and broadcasting.

She also provided support for young women who were homeless and dependant on drugs. But she told how she struggled to cope with being away from her eight-year-old daughter.

“It was a very dark period of my past and I would not like to bring it back,” she said.

“I had already prepared for the fact I was going to prison but I was angry at leaving my daughter.

“My family was very supportive but I missed my daughter very much,

“I didn’t think it was fair but I had to block everything out.

“If I fell to pieces, I wouldn’t have coped.

“I had to show I was strong. On my first night, a woman who was in for murder tried to steal my tobacco and I stood up to her. That was the best thing I could have done, otherwise she and others would have bullied me. She was shocked I didn’t back down.”

Emma, who lives in Ince, then set about creating her role in prison.

“I knew I wanted this to benefit me so I set out to work with young women and help them,” she said. “I then became the person to go to for help.

“People came to me for help in writing letters to the House of Commons and I supported two sisters who were in prison through joint enterprise.

“I think it (joint enterprise) is a badly thought out law and I am trying to get it repealed in Parliament.

“I also gained a level three in community radio and radio broadcast and plan to work with Shoutradio - the new community radio in Scholes Precinct and open up conversation about what services are on offer for young women who have come out of prison. I want to give a voice to these women.”

Following her experiences, Emma, is now trying to restart her career in youth work, which she began when she was 16.

She said: “Youth work is my passion and I want to help young women aged 16 to 24 once they are released from prison.”

Coun McGurrin has also hit out after she was asked to stop working at the Aspull-based Wigan Women’s Project (WWP) once bosses became aware of rules preventing her from doing so due to her conviction.

Following her previous experience in youth work she was asked to help secure a bid for funding which would support vulnerable young women aged 16 to 24.

The mother-of-one now fears the project - which helps women effected by crime, unemployment, domestic and sexual abuse, substance misuse, and homelessness - may suffer.

She said: “I feel there is manipulation to use me for four months and then I was reigned in by these rules when Wigan Council found out.

“I shouldn’t have been asked in the first place. They knew I had the conviction.

“I am disappointed as I feel that without my help, some things will be missed in the funding, making sure the money doesn’t just fund staff, but also takes account of the building rents and bills.

“I can be of benefit here because of my experience.”

Bosses at WWP have offered to meet with Emma to discuss what has happened, but she has refused.

Sarah Owen, chair of Wigan Women’s Project (WWP), said: “The service has a policy which means anyone with a criminal record must be offending clear for a minimum of 12 months in line with standard procedure before they are allowed to volunteer for the project.

“Once this issue was highlighted by myself the correct protocol was swiftly brought in place.”