A FORMER councillor has been handed a 10-month suspended sentence for cheating the council of more than £45,000 in benefits over seven years.

Joginder Saroe, 62, of Beaconsfield Road, Southall, admitted eight charges of false accounting over housing benefit, income support and Council Tax at Isleworth Crown Court today, while other fraud charges were left on file.

The former British Airways employee was caught using the exclusive David Lloyd gym and driving an expensive Mercedes with a personalised number plate, while claiming disability benefit in 2005.

Saroe, who represented Labour for Dormers Wells, started claiming income support when his market stall business in Bristol collapsed in 1994.

But in August 1998, he started renting out a property he had bought in Glamorgan, Wales, which should have disqualified him from claiming the money.

Prosecutor Rossano Cifonelli told the court: "He was receiving about £250 a week in rental for a flat above a garage-showroom, which was leased out for another £10,000 a year. He did not declare this income and the claims continued.

"There is some background as to how matters came to light. He was claiming disability allowance and there were some differences over how ill he actually was.

"The defendant was, at various times, a councillor and the local press took an interest in his activities and they reported the fact he was on various benefits while attending the gym at the David Lloyd Club.

"Photographs were sent to the Department of Work and Pensions and when he was asked about it, he said he went to the gym because of his back."

"Further investigations revealed the existence of the property in Wales and he was questioned again."

Saroe admitted owning the property, but claimed it did not make a profit, which is why he had not informed the authorities in his claims.

Defending, Lalith De Kauwe, said Saroe, who had led a blameless life up to this point, and handed up a sheaf of testimonials from various members of the community.

He has since sold the property and paid off most of his debts and £10,000 was with his solicitors to repay the money owed to the council.

Mr De Kauwe said: "He understands that he has done wrong and he is prepared to repay that money."

Suspending a 10-month sentence for two years, Judge Andrew MacDowall said benefit fraud always merited a prison sentence because of the effect on the community at large.

He continued: "It is obviously sad that somebody of your age and position should find yourself in the dock.

"For someone such as yourself there is a genuine feeling of shame in the community. There is likely to be a measure of publicity that will be a lasting punishment as well".

In addition, Saroe faces a "confiscation hearing" in August when his financial situation will be considered by the court.