A former DUP councillor has been sentenced to four months in jail after pleading guilty to electoral fraud.

53-year-old Dessie Stewart, who was formerly the DUP Mayor of Coleraine in Co Derry, was convicted of taking 15 postal votes from a elderly care home in Portrush and using these to vote for the DUP.

The charges related to the Westminster and local government elections, which took place on the same day in May 2005.

Stewart's lawyer said his client's action came at a moment of human weakness and absolute madness, which was inexcusable, and he appealed to the judge for leniency. 

However the trial judge, Piers Grant, said that crimes of this kind pose a great danger to our electoral system and democracy as they are easy to commit and difficult to detect. 

Deterrent and exemplary punishment is usually merited in such cases, he said. 

The judge sentenced Dessie Stewart to four months' imprisonment on each of the six counts, with the sentences to run concurrently.

The judge said there was no evidence that Stewart's conduct in stealing the votes was condoned, encouraged, or assisted by the DUP Party. 

He said: 'I make it clear that in sentencing you for this serious offence this court makes no criticism of your party.'

Stewart resigned from the DUP last month and has also stepped down from the council.

A by-election will now take place in the Skerries ward where he had held a seat since 1989.