A FORMER mayor and serving councillor is facing trial in the New Year after being charged with a £13,000 benefit fraud.

John McGowan, 53, of Ribble Way, Low Moor, Clitheroe, is alleged to have been caught playing golf, shopping and even doing a paper round while claiming a high level of disability allowance.

McGowan is both a Ribble Valley councillor and Clitheroe town councillor, representing the Edisford and Low Moor ward. He was the Mayor of Clitheroe for two years from 1997.

He has not been suspended from his role on either council.

McGowan is alleged to have been overpaid by £13,114 for a two-year period during which he claimed a high level of disability.

He is charged with failing to give notification of a change of circumstances affecting his disability allowance payments.

At Blackburn Magistrates Court McGowan pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried at Preston Crown Court.

The prosecution allege that during that time he was seen playing golf Stoneyhurst Golf Club, shopping in a supermarket and even doing a paper round.

The case was adjourned until March for the preparation of committal papers.

The Labour councillor has more than 16 years local government experience.

He defected to Labour from the Liberal Democrats in 1999 after a row that saw him disposed from his role as deputy town mayor in Clitheroe.

On Ribble Valley Council McGowan is on the housing committee, has a responsibility for the overview and scrutiny of council services and sits on the parish council liaison board.

Clitheroe town clerk Ian Wolstencroft said: "We are aware of the court proceedings and are awaiting the outcome. Before then we are not in any position to comment."

A spokesman for Ribble Valley Council said that they could not comment on the issue while court proceedings are ongoing.