Details have emerged of a major investigation which led to the conviction of a council employee who illegally diverted hundreds of thousands of pounds to help the vulnerable.

Private sector housing manager Stuart Burrell, 43, was sentenced in January to 18 months in jail after defrauding Southend Council out of £307,000.

He did not personally benefit and claimed his only motivation was getting people off the housing waiting list.

However, he did it by forging funding requests and changing invoices.

This included giving public funds to two Southend housing projects run by the same business owner, after rule changes meant they may not have been eligible.

He also invented invoices to pay rent for a family without a home just before Christmas 2016.

An annual report from the council’s counter fraud team has revealed new details of the investigation, which was launched after one of the council’s finance officers became suspicious about two suppliers listed as having matching bank details.

The report notes Mr Burrell was questioned about the suppliers but he “became evasive and approached a procurement officer to delete the material”.

Soon after, the case was referred to the Counter Fraud and Investigation team.

The report adds: “The staff member was suspended from duty and interviewed under caution. During this interview [he] lied and attempted to present [himself] as a victim of fraud.

“The investigation was lengthy and complex and involved three arrests, the execution of two search warrants, joint working with Essex Police, digital forensic analysis of computers and phones, the examination of thousands of documents, the analysis of over 50 forged documents, over 100 witness statements and over 500 items of evidence.

“Due to the excellent work of the investigating team the former-staff member entered guilty pleas to four counts of fraud by abuse of position and was sentenced to 18 months’ immediate imprisonment.”

The impact of his actions on taxpayers’ money was starkly illustrated in a council report in March which revealed Mr Burrell was single-handedly responsible for a 5,000 per cent increase in fraud by council employee during the 2018-19 financial year.

When he was sentenced, Judge David Owen-Jones said: “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.” Southend Council said the case demonstrated that they will always “seek to take immediate action” and, if needed, prosecute. to the full extent of the law.