A forged Home Office document was found in the bedroom wardrobe of an experienced town councillor, a court heard.
Malcolm Belchamber denies producing the letter, which claimed acquaintance Osman Koroma had indefinite leave to remain in the UK, in 2004.
On the third day of his trial on Thursday (June 15), the four-time Littlehampton mayor admitted photocopying the document.
He insisted, however, he had not studied the contents and did not know what it was for.
Ryan Richter, prosecuting, said it was ‘surely obvious at a cursory glance’ what the letter was, given the defendant’s experience as a town councillor.
Mr Belchamber said: “At this time there was not the focus (on immigration) there is today.
“If I was handed this today with the focus on immigration I would have thrown it back at him or torn it up but 15 years ago there was not the focus there was today.”
Mr Belchamber, who had a career in the property industry, said it was common practice for estate agents to copy things for the public, as few people had photocopiers in the early 2000s. He owned his own business, Belchamber and Co, in Littlehampton High Street, before it was taken over by The Lettings Shop and then Leaders.
The court heard the Home Office letter was produced using a second document, put together ‘Blue Peter-style’ with scraps of different information.
“Did you, as a councillor, use bits of material to help (Koroma) make that letter,” Mr Richter asked.
“No not at all,” Mr Belchamber said.
The defendant said Koroma never returned for the document and he later put the document in an upstairs room which he used for storage.
He told the court he moved boxes of paperwork to his home in 2015, including the box file which contained the Home Office document.
Police raided the 70-year-old’s East Ham Road home after arresting him in connection with a 2014 fraud, which enabled Koroma to claim increased housing benefits. Mr Belchamber denies the offence.
A box file found in Mr Belchamber’s wardrobe contained numerous papers relating to Koroma.
They included a copy of his CV, travel documents, pictures at Worthing Hospital after Koroma’s son’s birth and photographs from a day trip to Drusillas Park, the court heard.
The prosecution asserted this was evidence of a close friendship between the pair, formed over a period of several years.
Mr Belchamber had played down the closeness of the relationship, explaining how Koroma often visited him at work, as he was a tenant.
He told his defence barrister, Clare Leslie, on Wednesday that there was ‘some socialising’ between them but the zoo trip was a ‘one-off’.
Under cross-examination, Mr Richter pointed to Mr Belchamber’s police interview, in which he said he sometimes visited Koroma’s flat for tea.
He told the jury this was ‘nine times out of ten’ because he had been asked to fix things in Koroma’s flat.
Mr Belchamber said he had lent Koroma money once or twice.
Addressing questions from Mr Richter, he struggled to recall paying for Koroma’s railway season ticket in 2015, a remark he made during his disciplinary interview at Leaders following the 2014 allegation.
The prosecution said he had committed the 2014 fraud and 2004 forgery to help his ‘friend’. Mr Belchamber refuted the claim.
The court is not sitting tomorrow (Friday). The judge is expected to sum-up the case on Monday, with the jury set to retire after.
Praise for former mayor’s character
A former Arun District Council officer and Littlehampton cricket stalwart praised Mr Belchamber’s ‘remarkable’ community service on Wednesday (June 14).
Hugh Milner, chairman and treasurer of Littlehampton Cricket Club for 30 years, said the town councillor and Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) had been an ‘incredible supporter of the community’ in the time he had known him.
First encountering him during his time as an Arun District Council officer, Mr Milner said Mr Belchamber, who he had known for at least 30 years, had represented the community as an Independent councillor – without the support of a main political party.
He described the four-time former mayor’s stints on the management committee for Littlehampton Sports Field and was glad to have him on board during a second stint on the board between 2013 and 2015.
Clare Leslie, defending, said: “You were aware of the charges he faces. You still came today to make these comments.”
“Yes,” Mr Milner replied.
The case continues.