A COUNCILLOR who pleaded guilty to benefit fraud has been kicked out of the Conservatives.
Clr Tony Brice has been expelled from the Tory group on Kirklees Council.
The 67-year-old pleaded guilty last week to falsely obtaining £2,977.32 in benefits from Kirklees.
Brice, of Belmont Close in Highfields, will be sentenced next month.
The 21-strong Conservative group this week voted to expel the Lindley councillor – leaving the party without a single seat in Huddersfield.
Tory group business manager Clr Christine Smith told the Examiner yesterday: “The decision was to expel him from the group of Conservative councillors on Kirklees on a permanent basis.”
Last night Brice told the Examiner he would stay on as an independent councillor.
He was suspended in October when the allegations came to light.
But Clr Smith said the Tory group decided to act following Brice’s guilty pleas at Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court last Friday.
“We made the decision in the light of him pleading guilty to three charges,” she said.
“The group felt it was so serious as to merit expulsion. Unfortunately that was the only option.
“There was a democratic vote and there were no dissenters.
“That’s the end of the matter as far as we’re concerned.”
Clr Smith paid tribute to Brice after Monday’s decision to expel him.
The Kirkburton woman said: “We’ve thanked him for all the hard work he’s done for the people of Lindley
“The decision to expel him was taken with a certain amount of sadness – the group feel let down.”
Brice was first elected to represent Lindley in 2004. Two years later he narrowly held his seat, beating Lib Dem Cahal Burke by 101 votes.
However, Brice lost his seat to the same candidate by 150 votes in 2010. The Tory made a comeback at this year’s council elections, unseating Lib Dem Tony Woodhead with a majority of 729 votes.
Brice will be sentenced at Halifax Magistrates’ Court next month.
The issue has also been referred to the council’s Standards Committee, which will decide if Brice can remain on Kirklees.
If the body decides the councillor can stay, he will be entitled to serve until 2015 and pick-up an annual allowance, which currently stands at £12,566.
But Clr Smith said – regardless of the Standards Committee’s verdict – Brice would not be welcomed back into the Conservative fold.
She said: “If he continues to sit in council, it will be as an independent. But that’s a matter for him.”
The Conservatives have selected ex-councillor Mark Hemingway to contest the Lindley seat at next year’s election, when the Lib Dems will be defending one of their two seats in the area.
Clr Smith said: “I sincerely hope that this won’t affect Mark’s chances.
“He lives in the ward and he was an excellent councillor for Kirkburton. I’m quite hopeful we can win the seat.”
Brice was also suspended as a member of the Conservative Party when the allegations against him were revealed.
Colne Valley Constituency Association’s 20-strong executive will meet on January 12 to decide if Brice should be expelled from the party.
Chairman Neil Drake told the Examiner yesterday: “Tony will be invited along to make his defence. Then the executive will decide.”
DESPITE Brice’s expulsion, the Conservatives remain the second largest party on Kirklees with 21 seats out of 69.
The ruling Labour group has 27 councillors while the Lib Dems have 14. There are four Green councillors and three independents – including Brice.
This week’s expulsion means the Conservatives now hold none of the 21 seats in the Huddersfield wards of Almondbury, Ashbrow, Crosland Moor and Netherton, Dalton, Greenhead, Lindley and Newsome.
Huddersfield has joined large northern cities including Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle in having no Conservative councillors.