A FORMER North-East councillor has been charged with fraud following the collapse of a charity.

Charles Smith, who used to be chairman of the Darlington Borough Council finance committee, was arrested following a police investigation into the affairs of the Dial-a-Ride charity.

The charity, which provided a taxi service for the elderly and disabled in Darlington, folded last February after suffering serious money difficulties.

Mr Smith, 53, who was financial director and treasurer of the charity, is charged with fraudulent trading and failing to keep accurate records between January 5, 2000, and February 25, 2002.

Mr Smith, who lives with his wife, Pam, in Woodlands Road, Darlington, has been bailed to appear before magistrates on January 21.

At his restaurant, Bishop's House, in Darlington, Mr Smith refused to comment on the charges yesterday.

But the former chairman of Dial-a-Ride in Darlington, Councillor Roderick Burtt, spoke of his shock at the arrest. Coun Burtt said: "Obviously this is very unwelcome news.

"Charles Smith gave many years of worthwhile work to the development and running of Darlington Dial-a-Ride and I am sorry indeed that he finds himself in this position."

The Charities Commission has been investigating the collapse of Dial-A-Ride.

A spokeswoman said: "We are aware that Mr Smith has been charged and we will offer the police any assistance that we can.

"We are continuing our investigations."

In 1995, Mr Smith, who was councillor for the Park West ward, was deselected by the Conservative party, and his wife and daughter were later expelled for signing election papers for an unofficial Tory candidate.