Chauffer Records At Heart Of Lord Hanningfield Charges

(Telegraph) – CHAUFFER RECORDS, which are thought to show Lord Hanningfield was being driven home to Essex when he was claiming for overnight accommodation in London, are thought to be at the heart of false accounting charges against the Conservative peer.

Lord Hanningfield faces six charges of false accounting after The Daily Telegraph disclosed last year that he had claimed tens of thousands of pounds in overnight accommodation when it was thought he was staying in Essex.

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the charges allege there were “numerous” occasions on which he had knowingly claimed overnight expenses despite returning to his home which is at West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, Essex.

Mr Starmer said the charges allege that Lord Hanningfield “dishonestly submitted claims for expenses to which he knew he was not entitled, including numerous claims for overnight expenses for staying in London when records show that he was driven home and did not stay overnight in London”.

The peer, who has been leader of Essex County Council since 1998 and was re-elected on another four year term last year, had a full-time chauffeur provided by the local authority at tax-payers’ expense.

The Daily Telegraph understands that police interviewed two chauffeurs who worked for Lord Hanningfield as part of their investigation.

Records held by the Lords authorities show the 69-year-old life peer claimed claimed £99,970 in “overnight subsistence” over a seven year period to the end of March 2008. The charges relate to a period from March 2006 to May 2009.

The rules state that peers can claim £174 a night if their main home is outside London and their stay is “for the purpose of attending sittings of the House”. Claims can only be made for nights immediately preceding or following a sitting.

Peers do not have to provide receipts, and are simply required to “clock in” with at the Lords in order to receive their allowances.

Yesterday Lord Hanningfield resigned as the leader of the council and quit his post as a Tory frontbencher on business affairs in the Lords. He also had the Conservative whip withdrawn from him by David Cameron.

Lord Hanningfield said: “I totally refute the charges and will vigorously defend myself against them. I have never claimed more in expenses than I have spent in the course of my duties.”

He said he was standing down as Tory business spokesman to avoid any “embarrassment or distraction” to the party. He was quitting his post at the council to give him enough time to defend himself.

Lord Hanningfield is best known outside Essex as the council leader who took on Royal Mail in 2008 and started to reopen closed post offices with council tax payers’ money.

He later described his groundbreaking plans, which privately infuriated senior management at the organisation, as “the most popular thing I have done in politics”, saying that strangers would stop him in the street to say “thank you”.

In April last year he announced plans to invest £50million in a new “Bank of Essex” to lend up to £100,000 to smaller firms in the county, with support from Santander, the Spanish banker.

Lord Hanningfield was criticised in 2008 for spending £62,000 on a “fact finding” business class trip to the United States.

He was elevated to the peerage in 1998 after helping to set up the Local Government Association, which lobbies central government on behalf of councils in England and Wales.

He has also been shadow minister for transport as well as a Tory whip since 2005, the year in which he asked a parliamentary question which revealed taxpayers had spent £1,800 on make-up for Tony Blair, the then prime minister.

Lord Hanningfield’s family still owns a farm in West Hanningfield. At school, he was nicknamed “Piggy White”, buying rare breeds at local markets. He is single but lives with Jefferson, a Bernese mountain dog.

… (11/03/2010) – Lord Hanningfield Faces Court Over Expenses

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