Tendring: Councillor’s ‘18 months of hell’ over money-laundering allegations

A FORMER council chairman who was arrested for alleged money-laundering has said he has lived through “18 months of hell” after the case against him was dropped.

Peter Balbirnie, 66, who represents Little Clacton and Weeley on Tendring District Council, said the investigation had put a “huge amount of stress” on him and his family.

Mr Balbirnie, of Larkfield Road, Great Bentley, was originally arrested in June 2009 over alleged financial irregularities at the council.

“The police went through everything; they took all my folders, my computer, lots of files and many other things,” said Mr Balbirnie, a retired heating and plumbing engineer who was elected to the council 28 years ago.

“They asked me where my safe was and they took all the money inside – they thought it had been earned by criminal activities.

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“They went into all of my and my family’s bank accounts and grilled me on several occasions. It’s been a really in-depth investigation.”

A sum of �30,000 in 30 envelopes was seized from Mr Balbirnie’s home and he was questioned on suspicion of soliciting a gift as a member of a public body in accordance with the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act of 1889.

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“I’ve always maintained that I was innocent and I’m pleased that I can now move on and get on with my life,” said Mr Balbirnie who is married to Mavis and has two sons aged 30 and 32.

“It’s cost me thousands of pounds to defend myself and I’ve felt weak, worn out and drained, but I haven’t stopped any of my charity work or held back from my duties at the council. I’ve never stepped back and tried to hide.

“I’ve always felt that the public have been behind me 100% and I’ve had the support of the officers at the council who know me.

“I’m confident that I will be able to hold onto my seat in the May elections. I think my constituents trust me and it’s only few who have been politically motivated who have said otherwise.”

Tendring First party member Mr Balbirnie, who first became a councillor in 1981 and was chairman of the authority in 2007/08, recently returned to the council chamber after a three-month suspension after swearing at a planning officer.

He was awarded an MBE for his charity work earlier this year, but said he would not pick up the award until the charges against him had been dropped because he did not want to embarrass the Queen.

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said: “Detectives investigating allegations of financial irregularities at Tendring Council have now released a 66-year-old man from the Clacton area from his bail.

“A file was put before the CPS, who decided no further action will be taken.”

n Mr Balbirnie will appear at Chelmsford Crown Court on January 4 on separate firearms charges. He denies charges of possessing a silencer without a firearms certificate and possessing a single 12-bore solid slug shell without a certificate.

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