A HOUSING manager has been jailed for defrauding the council out of £307,000 to try and get people into homes.

Stuart Burrell did not benefit personally from the fraud which involved forging funding requests to bring houses back into use.

The 43-year-old, who is also a world record breaking escapologist and strongman, admitted three counts of fraud and one count of attempted fraud.

He was jailed for 18 months.

Burrell, of Eastcote Grove, Southend had been working as a private sector housing manager for Southend Council.

He diverted taxpayers’ money to developers but insisted his only motivation was to try and get people off the housing waiting list.

On Friday Basildon Crown Court heard he had a breakdown after becoming overwhelmed by Southend’s housing crisis and decided to cut corners.

The first two counts related to Burrell authorising payments to businessman Mustafa Ahmed and his company MSA Design Ltd.

The funds were used to develop Strand House and a building in Newington Avenue into social housing.

Judge David Owen-Jones said: “You had a high position with substantial power to award funds for various projects.

“You were aware of the process to have access to these funds. You failed to follow the process and agreed funding when it would not normally have been authorised.

“You manufactured permission by forging letters so that the council made substantial payments.”

The other counts relate to payments to a letting company which were supposed to be used for renovation work but were actually used to pay the rent for a vulnerable family at Christmas time who needed to move on advice from Essex Police.

Trevor Archer, mitigating, said: “Mr Burrell decided to use his power to authorise funding to pay the rent for this family for three months.

“The easiest thing to do would be to say ‘sorry - it’s not my problem’ but that’s not in his nature.”

Burrell received an invoice from the company for rent which he changed to say renovation.

Judge Owen-Jones added: “It’s extremely sad and disheartening to see someone with your background in court charged with these crimes.

“It’s the hard working residents of Southend who suffer - they are the council taxpayers.

A spokesman for Southend Council said: “The integrity of all council staff is vital and depended upon, particularly when those staff are in positions of trust and responsibility. When concern was raised, our finance team took immediate action, leading to a detailed investigation. The speed and professionalism of this investigation enabled the charges to be brought. We are reviewing our procedures.”