The new deputy major of Workington is a convicted conman who swindled thousands of pounds out of women he met through internet dating.

David King, who now claims to be a “changed man”, made the shock admission after historic articles setting out his criminal history were shared online by political opponents.

But the 74-year-old insisted he had never denied his past and had paid back “every penny” to his victims, which he said amounted to a total of £48,000.

A former vice chair of the Workington Constituency Labour Party, he broke away to form his own political group called the New Independents which enjoyed some success in the recent local elections.

But following his appointment as deputy mayor of Workington and that of his wife Janet as mayor, revelations about his previous convictions have re-surfaced.

Mr King, who falsely claimed at the time he was the cousin of John Prescott, pleaded guilty to four charges of obtaining money by deception from two women between January and April 2004 – and was jailed for four years.

Court reports said he promised love and marriage to his victims, who he met through the Dating Direct website, but instead asked them to “invest” in his business.

Released after two years, he said he came to West Cumbria to escape a “criminal organisation” which had put out a hit on him.

Mr King agreed that he had behaved “abysmally” in the past and had encouraged women to invest in his book on St John the Divine.

He said: “I was instrumental in getting women to invest in this book. I’m not denying that. I deserved everything I got.”

But the politician revealed he had come to Cumbria not only to make a new start and to escape his past but also because he feared for his life.

He claimed he became involved in a company without realising its links to the criminal underworld and that he was later threatened amid fears he would expose this.

Mr King said: “One of the reasons I came to Cumbria was really to escape that situation. They put me on a hit list.

“All these things made my life very dangerous and made Janet’s life very dangerous but she knew all about this and I didn’t keep anything from her.”

The politician said his offending started after he returned to the UK from Siberia where he had been involved in a project dismantling and refurbishing nuclear missile facilities, a job which saw him handling “millions of dollars”.

Returning to Britain, he moved to an isolated village in Wales and began contacting women on dating websites.

Mr King, who was received into the Roman Catholic church in December 2017, said his last offence was committed over 17 years ago.

Now an active fundraiser for the church, he attributes his change of heart to his wife’s support and to the restorative justice programme which sees criminals confront the effect of their actions on their victims.

The pensioner, who has also made his peace with God, said: “Prior to our entering the church I made a full confession to the priest – and I mean a full confession. Poor man: he was listening for hours.

“And we decided I needed a most horrendous penance. Every day for 40 days, I said three Hail Marys; three Our Fathers and three Glory Be’s whatever the weather in front of the Madonna we have in the garden.

“Now, if I walk out on the road and I find a 50 pence piece I would pick it up and put it into the nearest charity box I could find. If I was to find a purse, I would take it straight to the police.”

His future wife – and now Mayor of Workington – visited him every single week while he was in prison.

She also sent the convicted fraudster around 700 letters, many of which strongly urged him to turn his life around.

She met him two years before he started his sentence and the couple were married in 2008.

An emotional Mrs King, who is also a town and borough councillor, said that if her husband was to return to his old ways “that would be it.”

The couple also said they would step down from their respective political positions only if that was what the electorate wanted.

But Mrs King said she would like to be given the opportunity to serve her community as mayor.

Her husband also made a plea for people to leave his wife alone, claiming she is being “vilified” though she had committed no crime.

While the couple have made no formal declaration about David King’s past actions, they insist they have made no a secret of them.

“We were getting on with our lives and we weren’t deliberately holding anything back,” Mrs King added.

Her husband, who was then living on  on a canal boat in Leigh, Greater Manchester, was sentenced at Preston Crown Court in 2006.

The court head that he was the “the epitome of charm”, dating five women at the same time, but with as many as 30 victims.

Judge Stuart Baker had told him: “They succumbed to your apparent charm and bogus appearance of respectability and industriousness.

“These were mean, calculating offences of confidence trickery.”

He claimed he was 10 years younger and presented himself on the website as a clean-living Christian, with a high income as a self-employed writer and businessman.

He was also jailed for 21 months in March 2002 after duping one woman out of £39,500 after claiming he was setting up a nursery business.

Court reports from the time said he targeted lonely middle-aged ladies, telling them he was a widower but omitted to mention his children – or the fact his “late” wife was very much alive.