Lord Hanningfield Faces Court Over Expenses

LORD HANNINGFIELD will appear at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court court today accused of theft by false accounting.

The charges relate to his claims for House of Lords allowances.

The prosecution, at a court a short distance from Parliament, is the first to result from the Westminster expenses scandal.

The peer denies any wrongdoing; but, if found guilty, could face a jail sentence of up to seven years.

He faces six charges of false accounting, relating to claims for overnight allowances from the House of Lords between 2006 and 2009, when records allegedly show he was in fact driven to his home near Chelmsford.

Hanningfield was suspended from the parliamentary Conservative Party and stood down as leader of Essex County Council.

He said he was “extremely disappointed” to be charged and insisted all his expenses claims were made in good faith.

The charges were announced by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer following a nine-month investigation triggered by the leak of expenses details to The Daily Telegraph.

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

Police Handover More Files On Westminster Expenses

(Guardian) – TWO MORE POLITICIANS may face criminal charges in the new year after Scotland Yard passed files of evidence to prosecutors.

Detectives from the Metropolitan police have been examining allegations that a “handful” of MPs and peers have committed criminal offences, including fraud and false accounting, over their expenses claims.

The Crown Prosecution Service is already examining files on four politicians and the cases of two more individuals were referred. Scotland Yard is continuing to investigate a small number of cases, a spokesman said.

The Met commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, said last month that a team of detectives was looking at a number of politicians – in single rather than double figures.

Scotland Yard has not confirmed the names of those individuals whose files were passed to prosecutors. But six individuals have been named in media reports as possibly being the subject of police inquiries. These include the Labour MPs Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, who each claimed thousands of pounds for mortgages which had already been paid off. Jim Devine, a third Labour MP, has reportedly been under investigation for invoices he submitted for electrical work worth more than £2,000 from a company with an allegedly fake address and an invalid VAT number.

Other names linked to the inquiry include the Labour peers Lady Uddin, who is facing allegations over a £100,000 claim in allowances, and Lord Clarke of Hampstead, a former party chairman, who has admitted his “terrible error” in claiming up to £18,000 a year for overnight subsistence when he often stayed with friends in London or returned home to St Albans, Hertfordshire.

Lord Hanningfield, a Tory peer who is also leader of Essex county council, was reported to be under investigation over whether he was returning to his home while claiming overnight allowances totalling £100,000 over a seven-year period.

The files are being considered by the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, who has to decide whether there is a realistic chance of securing a conviction and what charges he should bring.

The criminal offences which are likely to be being examined are fraud and false accounting. The former has maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and the latter seven years.

False accounting is covered by the 1968 Theft Act and carries a sentence of up to seven years. It states that a representation is false if the person making it “knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading”.

The 2006 Fraud Act states that a person is guilty if he “dishonestly makes a false representation”.

The Met said a small number of cases remained under investigation by detectives. “The Metropolitan police service has delivered two further files of evidence relating to parliamentary expenses to the Crown Prosecution Service.

“These files relate to two people and will now be subject to CPS consideration on whether there should be any charges.

“The CPS is now considering files relating to a total of six people from both houses. A small number of cases remain under investigation.”

The CPS said: “The CPS received two additional files of evidence from the Metropolitan police in relation to parliamentary expenses. Any decisions on whether or not there should be any charges in relation to these files and those already received will be made as quickly as is reasonably practical. It would be inappropriate to comment any further at this stage.”

The alleged abuses of the expenses system by MPs, such as claiming for “phantom” mortgages and creating fake receipts, are obvious cases for investigation as potential breaches of these laws, according to criminal lawyers.

Lord Hanningfield File To Go To CPS

(Telegraph) – THE DAILY TELEGRAPH UNDERSTANDS that detectives will imminently pass files on Labour MPs Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine, and peers Baroness Uddin, Lord Hanningfield and Lord Clarke of Hampstead to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Keir Starmer, the country’s top prosecutor, is expected to make a decision on whether to prosecute the politicians as early as January, before a General Election.

The Director of Public Prosecutions will decide whether the MPs and peers face court on counts of fraud, which carries a maximum sentence on conviction of 10 years, or false accounting, for which the maximum penalty is up to seven years.

Police and criminal lawyers are confident that charges will be brought.

A team of detectives have been assessing and investigating cases for the past five months since The Daily Telegraph’s Expenses Files investigation disclosed widespread abuse of parliamentary allowances.

They are now on the verge of finalising their files to send to prosecutors.

A Westminster source said: ‘We have heard that things are about to come to a head.’ A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said that they had not yet received files; but it is understood that they are expected imminently.

Police are liaising with Sir Thomas Legg, who is carrying out a full audit of MPs expenses, and are believed to have taken witness statements from senior civil servants and members of the Fees Office who processed the suspected claims. Witnesses, including constituency workers and banking officials, have also been interviewed by police as detectives build up a file of evidence.

A small team of officers who specialise in financial investigations have carried out a low profile inquiry, with no arrests. It is believed that MPs and peers have co-operated with requests from them for evidence from their emails and bank statements.

The most serious suspected frauds are considered to be those of Mr Morley and Mr Chaytor who both claimed thousands of pounds for ‘phantom’ mortgages that they had already paid off.

Mr Morley, the former agriculture minister, claimed £16,800 for a mortgage that did not exist and also admitted wrongly claiming £20,000 for mortgage capital repayments in contravention of rules.

Mr Chaytor admitted making an ‘unforgiveable error’ in ‘accounting procedures’ when claiming almost £13,000 in interest for a mortgage that he had paid off. Police will also be interested in why the Bury North MP also claimed almost £5,000 under his office allowances to pay his daughter, Sarah Chaytor, under an assumed name of ‘Sarah Rastrick.’

Mr Devine, a Scottish Labour MP, submitted invoices for electrical work worth £2,157 from a company with an allegedly fake address and an invalid VAT number.

Detectives from the Metropolitan police have made several trips to Mr Devine’s constituency of Livingstone to interview witnesses.

Lord Hanningfield, the Conservative peer who is also the leader of Essex County Council, claimed £100,000 over seven years for staying in London despite living just 46 miles from the capital. He has been investigated over whether he was returning to his home in Essex while claiming ‘overnight allowances’’ for staying in London.

He has a full-time chauffeur provided by the local authority at taxpayers’ expense and his claims from both parliament and the council are being studied.

Lord Clarke, a former Labour Party chairman, admitted his ‘terrible error’ in a newspaper interview after claiming up to £18,000 a year for overnight subsistence when he often stayed with friends in the capital or returned to his home in St Albans, Herts.

Baroness Uddin allegedly claimed £100,000 in parliamentary allowances by registering as her main home a property in Maidstone, Kent, that was apparently barely occupied.

MPs Shahid Malik and Tony McNulty will face no further action, and police have ruled out criminal investigations into the practices of ‘flipping’ or avoiding capital gains tax. However HM Revenue and Customs has launched the inquiries into 27 MPs.

MPs could avoid tax on their expense claims on the basis that they were ‘wholly, necessarily and exclusively’’ incurred in relation to the performance of their parliamentary duties.

MPs found to have claimed for non-essential items now face a tax bill of up to 40% on their value. They may also have to pay interest and fines on the back-dated tax bills.

In May, HMRC wrote to all MPs asking if they wished to come forward and make voluntary payments. The authorities said last night they had opened formal inquiries into 27 MPs.

It is thought that they are also scrutinising MPs who avoided capital gains tax when selling second homes; those who claimed for personal tax advice; and travel claims for journeys between their homes and office if they did not live in their constituencies or London, where they are working.

Mr Devine and Mr Chaytor denied last night that they had been formally questioned by police. Lord Clarke refused to comment.

Mr Morley said: ‘I have always made it clear that I am not guilty of any offence and that I am very happy to co-operate with the police, and the parliamentary authorities and procedures. I have been advised not to comment on press reports particularly when they are based more on speculation than fact.’

Baroness Uddin and Lord Hanningfield were unavailable for comment.

A Met police spokesman refused to comment on the ongoing investigations.

… (BBC, 05/02/2010) – Charged expenses peer Lord Hanningfield quits council

… (05/02/2010) – Lord Hanningfield faces six charges under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968 for false accounting, which carries a maximum sentence of 7 years in jail. The charges allege that between March 2006 and May 2009, he dishonestly submitted claims for expenses to which he knew he was not entitled. The allegations focus on numerous claims for overnight expenses for staying in London when records show he was driven home and did not stay in the capital.

… (06/02/2010)  – Chauffer Records At Heart Of Lord Hanningfield Charges

The Echo’s ‘Canvey/Kent Bridge’ Is Actually A Tunnel

BOB SPINK, our local MP, is reported by the Echo as being against the building of a bridge between Canvey and Kent; but the ‘bridge’ is actually a tunnel.

The Metrotidal proposal warrants serious consideration by all Canvey residents since it also includes the parallel establishment of a new railway station on the island — and early indications from the straw-poll (at the end of this article) suggest that the plans would significantly relieve the rush-hour congestion on Canvey Way.

There is a lot to digest here; but, if you reside on the island, and drive a car (or would take to the train instead if a new Medway line was built) please use the straw-poll below so we can obtain a good idea of how the island’s traffic might be effected.

Thank you…

The roadtraffic-technology.com website has this on the proposal:-

The Medway-Canvey Island crossing is the newest scheme proposed to provide a road and rail link that will integrate the Thames gateway transportation infrastructure. The entire scheme will consist of a road tunnel linking Canvey Island in Essex with the Medway towns across the Thames Estuary on the South bank (Hoo Peninsular in Kent). In addition, there would be a rail link that would link the Thames Gateway network with the Crossrail proposal for London.

The scheme would also incorporate a surge tidal barrier, reclaimed land off Canvey Island to create a lagoon and a tidal power plant. The scheme is being championed by a consortium headed by Metrotidal Ltd, which has already submitted preliminary plans to Department for Transport and the Environment Agency for the scheme.

Realisation of the project may not be until around 2012–13.

There is some opposition among local politicians on Canvey Island, despite the expected benefits of the scheme to the environment and the local economy as well as the integration of the transport system and congestion relief.

Funding would likely come from government money, road tolls and rail operator funds.

Studies conducted by Metrotidal Ltd have indicated that the new 7.6km crossing would ease congestion on the M25 at the Dartford Crossing. Other indications are that this scheme would support growth of the housing market in the Thames Gateway area.

Mark Willingale, director of Metrotidal, commented: ‘The proposal integrates three elements: a road and rail tunnel link under the Thames, new flood defences to cope with rising sea levels expected within the next century and a tidal power plant. The new road and rail services will serve the heavy freight traffic likely to be generated by the new deep-sea port planned at Shellhaven in Thurrock. We propose to fund the tunnel by combining the emerging Government flood defence budget with wholly private-sector funding for the tunnel and tidal power plant.

‘A new road connection from the A130 and A13 in Essex to the A289 and M2 in Kent will create a new road orbital system for the whole Thames Gateway region. Similarly, a new twin-track rail connection from Wickford and Pitsea in Essex to Rochester and Ebbsfleet in Kent will create a new rail orbital for the Thames Gateway that links the eastern limbs of Cross Rail and will give Canvey Island its own railway station for the first time and a third road access off the island.

‘The [Environment Agency] people are working on flood problems, the DfT is looking at [the] Dartford [tunnel], we’re saying why not put these together.’

Parties interested in the scheme include Kent County Council, Essex County Council, Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership, Department for Transport (who have appointed Parsons Brinckerhoff to look into proposals for a new crossing), the Environment Agency and the UK Government. Essex and Kent councils have recently commissioned a £100,000 study into a new lower Thames crossing.

Essex County Council leader, Lord Hanningfield, commented: ‘I have a feeling this is not the sort of project which Essex and Kent county councils will be looking at for a lower Thames crossing… A tunnel from Canvey to the Medway towns would be extremely expensive and I think it would not be acceptable, although our study will be looking at all the available options.’

Metrotidal Ltd believes that the capital cost of the plan will be £2–4bn, with the tunnelling part of the project thought to cost around £1bn. The tunnel is expected to be formed from concrete tubes immersed in the bed of the estuary along a trench dredged across the Thames.

There would also be an area of reclaimed land off Canvey Island and a lagoon on the Kent side of the river with a flood barrier constructed between the two; this would require four concrete caissons to form a ‘throttle’ for the flood barrier to reduce tidal range upstream.

The proposed tidal power plant could potentially provide enough power for a new eco town or provide power for an electric rail service through the rail tunnel. The consortium developing the project includes architects Bluebase, Capita Symonds and EC Harris, as well as Metrotidal Ltd.

The road and rail tunnels across the estuary would be constructed from concrete tubes laid in the bed of the river. Capita Symonds already has experience of this type of work, having gained experience from the Oresund crossing between Denmark and Sweden.

The 150m-long tunnel elements would be constructed on a site/staging area/dry dock in southwest Canvey Island that would be reclaimed from the sea in an initial £110m development. The idea was that this could, when the project was completed, be used to build the new Canvey Island railway station, thereby giving a direct link to London via the Thames Gateway rail network.

Willingale commented: ‘We would propose to use the reclaimed land which adjoins the south west Canvey regeneration area, initially as a dry dock where the concrete tubes for the tunnel would be constructed… After this work has been carried out the land could revert to being part of the estuary or it could be used for development. It would seem a great shame if having reclaimed the land for the dry dock it was then left to become sea again.

‘Obviously, it could be an ideal place for a new station to serve Canvey on the rail link and for commercial development… We have put a value of £110m on this site for reclamation but I would think that could be low compared to the true value when the whole scheme comes into operation.

It seems that Bob has already made-up his mind on the matter; but where do you stand? Would a tunnel from Canvey to Kent ease your daily commute?

Would you abandon your car for some journeys and use the new railway instead?

Please use the straw-poll below so we can all obtain a good idea of the possible effects on local traffic — and don’t forget to leave your thoughts and comments

… (Echo, 19/11/2009) – Third access road on Canvey should be provided by local authority says Castle Point MP

… (Echo, 22/01/2010) – £2.5m to be spent on Castle Point leisure facilities

ECC Sets £300 Million Savings Target

(BBC) – ESSEX COUNTY COUNCIL has set a target of cutting budget expenditure by £300 million by 2012.

This is a third of the council’s income. Tory leader Lord Hanningfield has pledged no service cuts and no above-inflation council tax rises.

The council is streamlining operations by cutting duplication and eliminating unnecessary processes, he said.

But the Liberal Democrats are concerned over effects on jobs and want more information on the impact of the cuts.

Lord Hanningfield said: ‘Raising our savings target to £300m shows our commitment to delivering value for money for Essex residents.

‘This figure is a very tangible commitment to our residents that will mean no council tax increases above inflation for four years, no cuts in front-line services, despite the worst operating environment for 60 years, and extra investment in those services crucial to assisting Essex through this present recession.’

Sarah Candy, cabinet member for finance and change management, said: ‘We are only halfway through the financial year, and we have already delivered £40m towards this target.

‘We are beating our targets and upping our game further, which is why we have set this new target that will direct £300m from the back office into front-line services by 2012.’

David Kendall, Lib Dem economics spokesman on the council, said: ‘A number of services are to be privatised under the transformation changes and we are concerned about the jobs of staff who have done an excellent job over the years.

‘We do not have all the information needed to make a judgement on the changes, although we were promised this so that a detailed analysis could be made.

‘We set an amendment that the decision should be deferred until the December meeting when more information from the review that is going on would be available.

‘However, this was outvoted by the Conservative group.’

Essex County Council has 75 members with the Conservatives holding 60 seats and the Lib Dems 12, Labour one and Independents two.

Lord Hanningfield Facing Further Probe By Council Sleaze Watchdog

(Telegraph) – LORD HANNINGFIELD, a Tory transport spokesman and leader of Essex County Council, is at the centre of a ‘conflict of interest’ probe by Standards for England.

If he is found guilty of any wrongdoing, Lord Hanningfield, who has led the local authority — one of the biggest in the country — for the past decade, could be banned from local politics for several years.

The investigation by Standards for England, which monitors wrongdoing in local government, centres on controversial plans by Lord Hanningfield’s council to turn local comprehensive schools into privately-run academies.

Inspectors will examine Lord Hanningfield’s role in the transfer of several Essex comprehensives worth ‘several millions of pounds’ into a private school academies trust, called the Academies Enterprise Trust, of which he is a director.

They are examining whether Lord Hanningfield failed to declare the directorship at the time of the transfer. Questions will also be asked whether he stands to benefit financially from the arrangement.

The inspectors will examine whether he broke the code of conduct which governs all local councillors. The penalty for any breach is a ban of up to five years from serving as a councillor.

The Standards Board only investigates 10 per cent of all complaints —normally the most serious or sensitive — against councillors.

Glenys Stacey, the board’s chief executive, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘We have accepted it [the complaint] for investigation. There has been an allegation of the breach of the code of conduct.’

The complaint was lodged by local Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell earlier this year. Mr Russell said the alleged failure to declare his interest was ‘a most serious and blatant case of failure to comply with the high standards which should be followed by all councillors.’

Separately, it has also emerged that Lord Hanningfield declared his involvement with the trust on a separate register for peers’ interests held by the House of Lords in January this year, five months after two of the academies had opened.

Mr Russell, a councillor for 31 years in Colchester, told The Daily Telegraph he was ‘astonished’ that the peer should have been involved in the transfer of the schools ‘without him seemingly seeing any conflict.’

The schools, which have so far been transferred into the academies trust, are Greensward School in Hockley, and Bramston and Rickstones Secondary Schools in Witham (which are now known as Maltings and New Rickstones respectively).

From September, two more secondary schools in Clacton are being merged into a single school, the Clacton Coastal Academy.

Lord Hanningfield confirmed that he was being investigated; but said that he had cleared his involvement in the trust with ‘the principal legal officer at Essex County Council… [who] was entirely satisfied that the due processes were followed and adhered to.

‘I can confirm that I have no financial interest in the trust nor do I receive any fee,’ he said.

‘My only interest is to improve the educational opportunities of children in Essex including the promotion of academies as an option… which I will look forward to discussing with the Standards Board.’

A spokesman for the council said that Lord Hanningfield had now registered his involvement with the trust in writing with the council, and stressed that Lord Hanningfield did not stand to gain personally from his involvement with the trust.

Lord Hanningfield is one of three peers and two MPs being investigated by the police in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month that detectives want to know why Lord Hanningfield claimed £100,000 over seven years for staying in London despite living just 46 miles from the capital. He insisted he could justify all of his expenses claims.

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: ‘In January of this year, when this matter was first raised, the county council was satisfied that Lord Hanningfield did not need to declare his position as Patron of the Academies Trust.

‘This matter has now been referred to the Standards Board and, obviously, the county council will heed any advice that is given or relevant to it. For the avoidance of any doubt, Lord Hanningfield subsequently registered this interest in January 2009.

‘Furthermore, this matter is an issue of public record; Lord Hanningfield verbally declares his role wherever appropriate and a press notice was issued when he took on the role.’