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.

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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

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

Lords Face Expenses Reduction

(Telegraph) – PEERS IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS are to have their expenses cut as part of Parliament’s response to the scandal over allowances.

The amount Lords can claim for staying overnight in London will be cut and receipts will, for the first time, have to be produced to verify the amount.

The furore around MPs expenses has deflected some attention from some of the antiquated allowances that also operate in the Lords.

However, some high profile cases of peers abusing the system has led to a quicker than expected set of proposals being drawn up by the independent Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB).

At the moment peers can claim £174 for staying overnight if their main home is outside London. The new rules will see that drop to around £140.

They are likely to be able to claim for staying in a hotel or renting a flat. However, like MPs, they will not be able to cash in by claiming for mortgage costs on a property.

The costs of upkeep for the home will also no longer be met by the taxpayer.

The review body will wait until Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, publishes his report into MPs’ expenses next week before unveiling its own recommendations. The aim, according to the BBC, is that the two reports ‘dovetail.’

Under the current rules members of the Lords can draw £75 a day for general costs of running an office and a further £86.50 for food and taxis. Those allowances are likely to be merged and a stricter limit imposed.

Meanwhile a report published today will set out reforms for the House of Lords to restore public confidence following controversies over lobbying and allowances.

The Eames Report will propose changes to the Lords’ code of conduct and rules relating to peers’ outside interests.

Baroness Royall, Labour’s Leader in the Lords, asked an internal committee chaired by Lord Eames, the former Archbishop of Armagh, to review the code of conduct in May this year after a series of controversies hit the Upper House.

These included the suspension of Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn for offering to lobby to change the law in return for cash, and allegations (currently being investigated by police) over expenses claims by Baroness Uddin, Lord Clarke of Hampstead and Lord Taylor of Warwick.

The Lords Code of Conduct came into effect in 2002 and requires peers to ‘act always on their personal honour’ and observe the principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Lord Hanningfield Questioned Over Expenses Claims

Lord Hanningfield(Telegraph) – SCOTLAND YARD IS INVESTIGATING LORD HANNINGFIELD, a Conservative peer and leader of Essex County Council, who claimed £100,000 over seven years for staying in London despite living just 46 miles from the capital, The Daily Telegraph disclosed today.

Lord Hanningfield, a frontbencher in the House of Lords, is being investigated over whether he was returning to his home in Essex while claiming ‘overnight allowances’ for staying in London.

The leader of Essex County Council has a full-time chauffeur provided by the local authority at taxpayers’ expense. Records held by the Lords authorities show that the 68-year-old life peer claimed £17,120 for staying in London for the year ended March 2008, the last year for which figures are available.

He lives in West Hanning­field, near Chelmsford. Detectives want to establish whether he stayed in London on the days he claimed to have done, and not at his home.

Lord Hanningfield is one of three peers and two MPs being investigated by the police in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, The Telegraph reports. The others are Lord Clarke of Hampstead, a former Labour Party chairman, Baroness Uddin, a Labour peer, as well as Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, the two Labour MPs who claimed for ‘phantom’ mortgages.

Lord Hanningfield blamed a ‘vindictive campaign against me’ and insisted he could justify all of his expenses claims. He said: ‘I work extremely hard on the front bench and am satisfied that I can account for my expenses.’

As leader of Essex County Council, Lord Hanningfield claimed expenses of £59,110 in 2006-07 — including £36,030 as leader; £5,319 for travel; and £7,466 for fares and subsistence.

… (BBC, 03/07/2009) – Peer accuses MP of expenses smear

… (17/07/2009) – Expenses Proposals Get Watered Down

… (24/07/2009) – Lord Hanningfield Facing Further Probe By Council Sleaze Watchdog