Jailed benefit cheat appointed new deputy mayor

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UPDATE 7AM TUESDAY: GUL Nawaz - a city councillor who served a one-month jail term for a £3,000 benefit fiddle in 2002 - was, as expected, elected as Peterborough's deputy mayor last night.

UPDATE 7AM TUESDAY: GUL Nawaz - a city councillor who served a one-month jail term for a 3,000 benefit fiddle in 2002 - was, as expected, elected as Peterborough's deputy mayor last night.

The Ravensthorpe councillor was selected at a town hall meeting, while Cllr Pat Nash succeeded Cllr Marion Todd as mayor.

Speaking after the meeting, the Conservative called The Evening Telegraph's coverage of his past (see story below) "unfair".

Seven opposition councillors voted against the selection of Cllr Nawaz, while two Conservatives refused to endorse him by abstaining.

Full story in Tuesday's Evening Telegraph.

Monday 12noon: GUL Nawaz – a city councillor who was jailed for a 3,000 benefit fiddle in 2002 – will be unveiled as Peterborough's new deputy mayor tonight, The Evening Telegraph can reveal.

The Ravensthorpe councillor is due to be nominated for the prestigious role at a town hall ceremony, with Cllr Pat Nash becoming mayor.

Critics fear that the appointment of Cllr Nawaz, who served a one-month prison term six years ago, could heap further embarrassment on Peterborough following the high-profile jailing of former city mayor Mohammad Choudhary for vote-rigging.

In an unprecedented move, Cllr Marion Todd, the city's outgoing mayor, revealed she was so dismayed by Mr Choudhary's deception that she ordered the removal of his photograph from the mayor's parlour.

Now Cllr Nawaz, whose reputation was tarnished in a 3,000 housing benefit scam, will fill the role occupied by Cllr Todd for a year prior to her becoming mayor in May 2007.

Defending a decision by the Conservative's hierarchy in the city to select him as deputy mayor, Cllr Nawaz said: "We should not mention what happened in the past. The past is the past.

"It is a very great honour to be deputy mayor, and I am proud to have been chosen to serve alongside Pat Nash. Everything will be done honestly and by the book."

READ ET COMMENT: In the spotlight for all the wrong reasons

After being sentenced at Peterborough Magistrates' Court, the Conservative served one month of a two-month sentence at Bedford Prison before being released.

Following his release, Cllr Nawaz wrote to his 3,000 ward constituents to apologise for a "lapse in judgement". The letter said he had "incorrectly" claimed housing benefit in 1996, six years before he was elected as a councillor, and that he had paid the city council back in full.

Despite the controversy, Cllr Nawaz remained popular in his ward, winning elections in 2004 and in this year's May 1 poll. City MP Stewart Jackson said: "Since his imprisonment he has twice been put forward to be elected by the people of Ravensthorpe and he has been emphatically endorsed.

"He is a hard-working, diligent and committed local councillor and has paid the price for his mistake. As far as I am concerned, he has made recompense for it and should be judged on his record as a whole."

City council leader John Peach said he refused to comment ahead of tonight's meeting. Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Nick Sandford said: "I don't have any personal issue with Cllr Nawaz, who seems to work reasonably hard in his ward.

"But incidents in his past do raise question marks over whether he is the most suitable person."

Opposition councillors are also frustrated that Cllr Nash will become the eighth consecutive Conservative mayor.

Cllr Charles Swift, Independent councillor for the North ward, said there was some "ill-feeling" in the council about the prospect of Cllr Nawaz becoming deputy mayor, both inside and outside the Conservative group.

But he added: "I firmly believe in letting sleeping dogs lie. It's not for us on the city council this evening to question Gul Nawaz and his previous conviction and all that bag of tricks. He was elected by the people, and it's not for me to usurp the wishes of those he represents."

Members of the public are welcome to attend the annual council meeting, in the town hall at 6.30pm tonight.