A FORMER Southend Council leader was at the centre of a bribery probe when he took on the top job, it can now be revealed.

Conservative Tony Cox admitted more than £1,000 was deposited into a bank account, which he shares with his wife, by the Southend Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association.

A whistleblower alleged the money was a “bribe” from the association for Mr Cox to continue his opposition to the Uber’s presence in the town.

However, a counter fraud team’s investigation ended in March last year due to there being insufficient evidence to pass to the Crown Prosecution Service.

It concluded just seven days after Mr Cox was elected leader of the council, a position he held until June 4 when he was ousted by the current Labour-led coalition.

Mr Cox has submitted a seven-page letter, seen by the Echo, to new council leader Ian Gilbert calling for an investigation.

He has branded the bribery allegation a “joke” and insisted council bosses need to look into “politically-motivated bullying and harassment”, sanctioning “illegal access and misuse of financial information” and “interference to the right to a private life”.

A Southend Council spokesman said: “This is an ongoing matter that is being dealt with in accordance with both the members code of conduct and staff code of conduct. “It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Mr Cox said his complaint was submitted “with regret” but he believes two council bosses - chief executive Alison Griffin and monitoring officer - John Williams - have “fallen short” of what is expected of them.

Mr Cox, who represents West Shoebury, said: “These are some very serious allegations that I’ve had to raise and naturally I am happy for there to be a full hearing so everything can be brought into the open.”

The drama began to unfold in April 2018 when a whistleblower told council bosses about a payment of £1,050 which had been transferred to a joint account in the name of Mr Cox and his wife from an account owned by the drivers’ association.

The transfer took place in July 2017.

The money was transferred to Mr and Mrs Cox’s joint account.

Mr Cox has shown the Echo documents showing the money was used to pay for his wife’s legal fees. Despite council rules stating any “gift, benefit or hospitality” received by councillors worth more than £50 should be declared, Mr Cox did not make any formal declaration of the cash, because the money was for his wife.

He insists he will not declare the money. Mr Cox has defended the transfer of funds, and has reiterated it had nothing to do with his role as a councillor and was to help in paying his wife’s legal fees for an unrelated personal issue.

He says he should not be expected to declare money linked to his wife’s financial affairs.