Former MP jailed for expenses fraud

Disgraced former MP David Chaytor was today jailed for 18 months, after admitting to three charges of false accounting on his expenses, totalling over £20,000. He had faced a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment, but his guilty plea was taken into account.

The former Labour MP for Bury North had made claims for renting two properties which were owned by him and his mother, and for IT consultancy for which he was never charged. According to the Daily Telegraph, Chaytor had spread more than £91,100 of expenses claims across five different properties in five years, ‘flipping’ the designation of his second home six times.

Together with former Labour colleagues Jim Devine and Elliot Morley, Chaytor had argued at the Court of Appeal that only Parliament could hear the case, invoking the 300-year-old immunity of parliamentary privilege. After a Court of Appeal ruling that parliamentary privilege did not apply in the case of the alleged fraudulent claiming of expenses, Chaytor had been due to be the first MP to stand trial over expenses but changed his plea just days beforehand.

Devine and Morley, sitting Labour MP Eric Illsley and the former Conservative peers Lord Hanningfield and Lord Taylor of Warwick are all due to face separate, unconnected trials involving their expenses later this year.

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29 Comments

  • Poppie's mum 7th Jan '11 - 5:15pm

    Good to see Chayter got what he deserved.

    Talking of abuse of tax payers’ money when will we hear the adjudication on David ‘Born to be Public Sector Axeman’ Laws ? Has the against -the-rules claiming he did been quietly forgotten ?

    Wasn’t it about £40,000 ?

  • David Boothroyd 7th Jan '11 - 5:43pm

    Matt – read the sentencing guidelines for false accounting here: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/sentencing_manual/false_accounting/

    The amount involved is the most important factor. In this case it was in the £17,500 to £100,000 bracket (but clearly towards the lower end). The starting sentence for such a crime is between 2 and 3 years. The Judge started off with 2 years (other mitigating and aggravating factors presumably balancing out), then applied a discount for a guilty plea.

  • Not long enough, but I guess in cases like this the message is most important…….

  • David Boothroyd 7th Jan '11 - 6:36pm

    Supposing someone had taken £1bn from charity funds intended for disabled children, and spent it on a yacht full of gin. They couldn’t be sentenced to any more than 7 years in gaol. David Chaytor’s offence was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as that, and if the sentence had been significantly higher than the sentencing guidelines indicated, he would have appealed against sentence and won.

  • Andrew Suffield 7th Jan '11 - 9:57pm

    Talking of abuse of tax payers’ money when will we hear the adjudication on David ‘Born to be Public Sector Axeman’ Laws ? Has the against -the-rules claiming he did been quietly forgotten ?

    Wasn’t it about £40,000 ?

    No. David Laws claimed precisely the amount allowed to him by the rules. All he did wrong was to write the wrong reason on the claim form. His departure was about the embarrassment this caused, nothing more.

  • David Boothroyd 7th Jan '11 - 10:45pm

    Readers may wish to peruse the Judge’s sentencing remarks: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/chaytor-sentencing-remarks.pdf

    Which make it clear that the prosecution had asked for a starting point (before consideration of aggravating and mitigating factors) of 18 months imprisonment. The Judge decided on a starting point of 2 years imprisonment. In other words, and just to rub it in, the Judge gave a heavier sentence than even the prosecution thought appropriate.

  • I am surprised to read on a Liberal Democrat website that some people think that Chaytor should have had a longer sentence. The man’s a scoundrel and deserves to be punished, but he’s not violent or any danger to the public, and I thought that your party (and now Ken Clarke) wanted to send fewer people to prison. A very heavy fine and some community service would have been more appropriate in my opinion – and I said the same about Jeffrey Archer, Johathan Aitken and Lester Piggott. Prison should be reserved for violent offenders only.

  • Norfolk Boy 8th Jan '11 - 11:22am

    Oh dear,

    this doesn’t show the ‘system’ to be correcting itself, rather it reinforces the clear truth of the corruption of the political class and highlights the wilful ignorance of a people cowed for way too long by their ready acceptance of it. There should have been many, many more MPs in court for doing things at least as bad as the few put on trial. It’s scandalous that the MPs and their investigators think they can pull the wool over our eyes.

    I realise that prosecuting, jailing or prohibiting MPs from involvement in public life would result in a large number of MPs taking a long walk and a large upheaval in public life, but if that’s what it needs then that’s what it needs. Otherwise, a similar thing will occur before too long.

  • Toby Fenwick 8th Jan '11 - 12:44pm

    I think David Chaytor should have had a stiffer sentence precisely because one of the aggravating factors in the sentencing guidelines is “Breach of position trust”. Corruption is corrosive of the body politic itself, and he should have had the book thrown at him. And as for the notion that he’d shown genuine remorse, I’m flabbergasted – he took his case to the Supreme Court that he was above the law, and quite rightly that Court rejected his case.

  • Andrew Suffield 8th Jan '11 - 1:49pm

    And yet the rules on claiming expenses for rent clearly states, that you can not claim rent for a property which is owned by a member of your family or a partner.

    Mr Laws was in a long term relationship with his partner, for whom he supposedly rented the room from.

    The rules could not be clearer really.

    Yes, they are completely clear. Where he would not be allowed to claim this as rent, he would be allowed to claim this as paying his share of the interest on the mortgage, and in any event he would be allowed to claim the part of it which is maintenance costs and furnishings. In summary: claiming your half of living costs shared with a partner is allowed, but the Department of Resources wanted this to be drawn up as mortgages and not tenancy.

    (It’s not trivial to decide what to do about this because he may still be penalised for the deception, even thought it appears to have been at no cost to the treasury; there are good reasons why these were supposed to be audited in advance by the department)

  • Alex, Matt et al.

    What you don’t seem to get is that David Laws gained no percuniary advantage.

    The home-flippers etc did. They flipped in order to GET MORE MONEY.
    And a bunch of them were re-elected in May, so the voters were clearly very charitable about it.

    Dunno about you, but I think lying to keep your private life secret (but no other advantage), while a lie and rightly being investigated (very slowly), isn’t morally as bad as doing something to line your own pockets.

    Lot of almost mob hysteria over Xs, mind: public wound up to the state where they seemed to think MPs shouldn’t be allowed to claim anything at all.
    A lot of them took the p—, but within the rules. Claiming for a chocolate bar may be petty, but it wasn’t illegal.

    >white collar criminals should be less likely to do bird.

    It’s the nature of the offence, not the social status of the offender, that determines sentence. No violence involved.
    The victim wasn’t some little old lady and her life savings. And he pleaded guilty, which has (by law) to be taken into account.

    Chaytor’s lost his liberty, his career, his standing in society, and is facing huge legal fees. He poses no risk to society and can’t reoffend.
    The experience of being processed into the prison system won’t exactly be pleasant.
    Seven years, while the max permissable, would be more than some men get for rape.

  • I never suggested that Chaytor shouldn’t be punished severely, I just don’t believe that prison is the right place for non-violent offenders, and I thought that most Liberal Democrats shared that view. A very heavy fine (plus a lot of community service) might well have been a harsher punishment than what will amount to just a few months of porridge, especially if the accounts of the goings on at the recently damaged Ford Prison are anything to go by!

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Jan '11 - 4:46am

    The issue is not about what was or is cheaper to the treasury and the Public Purse, The Issue is, Has a Member or Parliament Breeched the rules on claiming allowances, and breeched the trust of the public that voted them into office?

    No it isn’t. Read the thread. The issue is, “Poppie’s mum” alleges that David Laws stole £40,000 of taxpayer money. He did not. David Laws filed an improper claim for the proper amount of money, for the purpose of concealing the nature of his relationship. That’s a very different thing.

    (He may be penalised for doing so, but it seems unlikely that he’ll have to repay the entire sum, and there doesn’t appear to be any scope for criminal charges)

    Andrew, were you similarly charitable to the home flippers?

    I said I thought it would be a gross violation of the rule of law to change the rules on them after the fact and expect repayments.

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