THE Tory councillor for Golders Green who lost his whip last week for claiming £800-a-month of allowances while living in Australia says he made the trip for "personal family reasons".

In an exclusive interview with the Times Series, 44-year-old Christopher Harris spoke of his regret at letting down residents of his ward after it emerged he has been abroad since July 21.

He was dropped by the Conservatives last Friday after council leader Mike Freer discovered he had still not returned from his trip.

Mr Harris said he flew to Australia with his wife and seven-year-old son for personal reasons, which he did not wish to be made public, and had not yet decided if he will return to Barnet.

He will make a decision on whether to resign as a councillor at the end of October, when it will be clear whether a multi-million pound development at Hendon Football Club's former ground will go ahead - a project he has been campaigning against for many years.

The former cabinet member, who lost his home in Barnet three years ago and was made redundant in June, said he decided to travel to Australia "in the best interests of his family" and to "discover new things".

Speaking this morning to the Times Series, he added: "I lost my job four months ago and I decided to use it as an opportunity to discover new things.

"I did consider stepping down, but I spoke to a few people who knew me well and they advised me to wait until a decision had been made on Hendon FC, because they knew how hard I had worked on it.

"On reflection, maybe it was a mistake to continue accepting my salary, but it just didn't dawn on me to stop it. It just drops straight into your account and I wouldn't have even known how to stop it.

"But I am really sorry if I caused any concern or problems among my constituents."

The father-of-one, who has been a Barnet councillor for 11 years, stressed that his take-home allowance after tax was only £500. It used to be higher, but he was removed from several council committees two years ago after injuring his neck and being unable to attend meetings for six weeks.

He is now considering making Australia his permanent home because he believes it may provide a better home for him and his family.

He said: "Basically, I have been put in a situation where I was being demoted anyway and all I had to do was constituency work.

"But I have been putting the community first for a long time and it is now time for me to put my family first."

Mr Harris confirmed he would be standing down at the next election, and conceded the removal of his whip was a "fair" decision and Mr Freer "did not have any choice".

But he voiced concerns that residents would remember him for this and not for the 11.5 years of work he had put into the council.

"During my time as a councillor, I have always striven to my utmost to act well for the local residents," he said.

"I take particular pride in the fact that I helped avert nuclear trains being stationed at Cricklewood, introduced organic food to children’s home catering, achieved a high star rating for the children’s services while cabinet member for this department and fought extremely hard with local residents to protect the open space of Hendon FC.

"People have the right to make their own judgements about this, but what I really don't want is for what I worked for for so many years to be denigrated."