Sun, Jan 09, 2011 - Page 6 News List

UK jails ex-MP over expenses fraud

ERODED CONFIDENCE:David Chaytor was sentenced after pleading guilty to making false expense claims totaling £18,350, including rental payments to family members

THE GUARDIAN, LONDON

David Chaytor, the first former British member of parliament (MP) to be convicted over the UK parliamentary expenses scandal, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday.

The former Labour MP for Bury North, in the northwest of England, last month pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in central London to three charges of false accounting, days before he had been due to stand trial. He faced a maximum sentence of seven years.

Chaytor had admitted false accounting involving a total of £18,350 (US$13,000).

He had agreed to pay back the sum before the hearing at the crown court in Southwark, south London.

Mr Justice Saunders said a significant penalty for the 61-year-old was “the only way public faith in the system can be restored and maintained.”

“The whole expenses scandal has shaken public confidence in the legislature, it has angered the public,” he said. “Chaytor only bears a small part of responsibility for that erosion of confidence and the public anger. But it is important because he has accepted his conduct was dishonest.”

Saunders said the offences had “wider and more important -consequences than is to be found in other breach of trust cases,” adding: “That is the effect they have had, and will have, in the confidence the public has in politicians.”

Chaytor gave no reaction as he was sentenced. Court sources told the Press Association news agency that the former MP would be taken to Wandsworth prison, in southwest London, to spend his first night in custody.

During submissions on Friday, defense lawyer James Sturman QC had pleaded for any prison sentence to be suspended and a community punishment imposed.

He said Chaytor, a former university lecturer, faced further -public humiliation if ordered to pick up litter or similar work because he would be photographed.

“We submit that the sums he received, if he had gone about it transparently, honestly and frankly, he would have been entitled to every penny, if not more than he claimed,” Sturman said.

He added that Chaytor had pleaded guilty out of “deep and genuine remorse.”

However, Peter Wright QC, for the prosecution, said the fact that Chaytor submitted false invoices proved that he knew he was breaking the rules.

“We say Mr Chaytor knew the rules, and we say why else would he produce false documents in support of his claims otherwise?” he told the court.

Chaytor had claimed £12,925 between 2005 and 2006 for renting an apartment in Westminster, London, producing a tenancy agreement purporting to show that he was paying £1,175 a month in rent to the landlord, Sarah Elizabeth Rastrick.

But she was his daughter — although her name was disguised by using her middle name as a surname — and the apartment was owned by Chaytor and his wife, who had already paid off the mortgage.

Chaytor also claimed £5,425 between 2007 and 2008 for renting a home in Castle Street, Bury, which was owned by his mother.

He produced a tenancy agreement falsely showing he was paying £775 a month. House of Commons rules do not allow MPs to claim for leasing a property from a family member.

A third charge related to two invoices of £995 each for IT support services in May 2006 when the “services had not been provided or charged for.” The court heard that money was never paid to him.

Chaytor, from Todmorden, Lancashire, northwest England, took his case to the Supreme Court, the highest in the land, to try to prevent it being heard by the courts.

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