OPPOSITION councillors have called for an independent review after a leaked council e-mail suggested a Labour councillor is being investigated for benefit fraud.

A memo from a Thurrock Council official, seen by the Gazette, suggests Clare Baldwin, pictured, councillor for Tilbury Riverside and Thurrock Park, has been investigated for circumstances surrounding housing benefit fraud relating to properties in Tilbury and Loughton.

The e-mail alleges Cllr Baldwin was interviewed in October, 2012, about living arrangements with a partner at the home in Loughton, and later at a property in Tilbury, where she was claiming housing benefit, without declaring she was co-habiting.

Thurrock Conservative group leader, Cllr Phil Anderson, plans to call for an inquiry after seeing the e-mail, saying he had “grave concerns” over the affair.

The Gazette was first made aware of an investigation in November and lodged a Freedom of Information request asking if the council “had investigated or prosecuted any councillors or senior council staff in the past year”.

But the council responded “the council has not prosecuted or completed any investigations against councillors or senior council staff in the last year”.

When the Gazette sought clarification, the council refused to give any more information. The Gazette has since lodged a formal complaint with the Infomation Commissioner’s Office, which is investigating the matter.

The Gazette approached Ms Baldwin and council leader John Kent, but both refused to comment.

But after seeing the report, Cllr Anderson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on these very serious allegations against Cllr Baldwin in advance of any court hearing.

“But I have grave concerns over why this has taken so long to be investigated and why Freedom of Information requests have not been properly responded to.

“I’m sure a normal member of the public would have expected to be either cleared or taken to court months ago.

“People rightly expect their elected representatives to be held to the highest standards of behaviour, and Thurrock residents will want to be reassured there has been no cover-up here.

“I will be asking for an independent review of the whole affair.”

A council spokesman said: “The only time Thurrock Council would make any comment on fraud investigations it was carrying out would be when court action was being taken and possibly not until the court had made a decision.

“Therefore it would be inappropriate to comment on allegations such as these and the council cannot confirm or deny the allegations.

“Thurrock Council stands by the FoI response it sent. We, of course, refute that the council has given incorrect information.”