DISGRACED former Essex County Council leader Lord Hanningfield says he will appeal against his conviction for fiddling the taxpayer out of £14,000.

The Tory peer spoke as he left his home to walk his beloved dog, Jefferson, after being found guilty of six counts of fraud in relation to his House of Lords expenses.

Lord Hanningfield, who was tried under his real name of Paul White, said he could not go into detail pending the outcome of an appeal.

He said: “No, I cannot discuss it, because of the appeal.

“I am taking legal advice and so cannot say anything at the moment.”

The 70-year-old spoke as it emerged there are also doubts about his expenses claims at Essex County Council dating back as far as 2009.

In the wake of last Thursday’s trial verdict, fraud police launched a probe into the claims made by White during his time as council leader, after County Hall officials revealed an internal audit had raised “concerns”.

Now it can be revealed the first questions about how money was being spent were asked two years ago as part of the 2008/09 inspection by the Audit Commission.

Its examination revealed a string of flaws in the way the council authorised transactions, including a loophole that allowed one person to sign off payments without being scrutinised by anybody else.

It is also understood specific investigations have been made into White’s use of a council credit card and his taxpayer-funded car and chauffeur.

It was revealed during the trial White had regularly been collected by his chauffeur and driven to his home in West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, after a day in the House of Lords – despite the work being unrelated to his council role.

County Hall has refused to comment on White’s expenses claims until the police have finished their inquiries. Councillors of all parties have also been warned not to speak to the press for fear of jeopardising the investigation.

Emma Boon, campaign director for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, called for the council’s expenses system to be tightened up.

She said: “It’s very worrying Lord Hanningfield was able to use an Essex County Council car for his House of Lords duties.

“The money all comes from taxpayers ultimately, but the system should not have allowed the line between those two roles to become blurred.

“He should only have been able to claim from Essex County Council for costs incurred carrying out of his duties as council leader.

“The system needs to be looked at very carefully and tightened up in light of this case so taxpayers’ money and resources cannot be used for purposes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the council.”

White denied six charges of fraud between March 2006 and May 2009, but was convicted by a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court. He fraudulently claimed £13,379 in overnight subsistence, £382 in train fares and £147 in mileage.

He will be sentenced in the coming weeks.