Three Labour MPs charged yesterday with theft over fraudulent expense claims declared that they were above the law and would fight attempts to put them on trial.
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Left to right: Jim Devine, Eliot Morley, David Chaytor and Lord Hanningfield
Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine each face up to seven years in jail after Keir Starmer, QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, announced that he was charging them under the Theft Act 1968.
Lord Hanningfield, the Tory frontbencher and leader of Essex County Council, faces six charges over his expense claims.
In a joint statement, the three MPs announced that they would fight the charges by claiming parliamentary privilege over their expense claims. It said: “We maintain that this is an issue that should be resolved by the parliamentary commissioner, who is there to enforce any breach of the rules.”
Mr Starmer, who spelt out the charges after a nine-month police investigation, said that their defence would be tested before a judge, preparing the way for a battle between the rights of Parliament and the courts.
The four have been summoned to appear initially on March 11, shortly before Gordon Brown is expected to call the general election. All insisted they were not guilty, and a full trial is not expected until later in the year.
Mr Starmer said he believed that there was evidence that the MPs broke the laws of concealment, falsification and destruction of accounting records for financial gain.
Mr Morley, MP for Scunthorpe, was charged with claiming £14,428 more than he was entitled on mortgage costs for a property in Winterton, Lincolnshire. He then claimed a further £16,000 after the mortgage had been paid off.
Mr Chaytor was accused of using faked invoices to claim for £1,950 of IT services. He also claimed £12,925 for renting a property in Regency Street, Central London, which he already owned, as well as claiming rent on a property owned by his mother.
Mr Devine, MP for Livingston, faces charges for using fake invoices to claim £3,240 for cleaning and £5,505 for stationery.
Lord Hanningfield’s charges include making “numerous claims for overnight staying in London when records show that he was driven home”.
A fifth individual, believed to be the Labour peer Baroness Uddin, is under investigation for her housing arrangements and could face charges.
A sixth, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, also Labour, will not be charged as “there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction”.
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