Ex-minister Denis MacShane jailed for bogus expenses claims
Labour’s former Europe minister pleaded guilty to false accounting after filing 19 fake receipts totalling nearly £13,000.
The former MP and Europe minister Denis MacShane has been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment after admitting making bogus expenses claims amounting to nearly £13,000.
The judge stipulated that he should serve half of the sentence, and could be released earlier. Flanked by two security officers, MacShane said “cheers” as the sentence was delivered, adding “quelle surprise” as he was led from the dock.
During sentencing at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Sweeney said MacShane had committed a “flagrant breach of trust” and had no one to blame but himself.
“The dishonesty involved was considerable and was repeated many times over a long period,” the judge said. “The deception used was calculated and designed to avoid suspicion falling on your claims.”
MacShane, 65, the former Labour MP for Rotherham, pleaded guilty last month to false accounting by filing 19 fake receipts for “research and translation” services. , he became the fifth ex-MP to be jailed in relation to the 2009 expenses scandal. He was also ordered to pay costs of £1,500 within two months.
Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign group, welcomed the sentencing but said it was “staggering that it has taken four and a half years for the case to be brought to a conclusion”.
Isaby said: “The police and parliamentary authorities must ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service has been handed all relevant evidence in order to decide whether a prosecution ought to be brought in any other cases relating to the 2009 MPs’ expenses scandal. Only then can the public be sure that a line has finally been drawn under a saga that did such damage to confidence in parliament.”
However, another former government ministerThe Labour MP Tom Harris said his colleague, who resigned his seat last year, should not have been jailed as he had already suffered enough and the CPS and police accepted he had not gained personally from the claims.
Evidence suggesting MacShane’s guilt was reportedly uncovered by a Commons investigation in 2010, but remained hidden from police under the rule of parliamentary privilege. It has been claimed that refusal by the Commons to release the material led to a police investigation into MacShane being dropped in 2012.
His expenses have been under scrutiny for more than four years. The Commons authorities began looking at the claims when the expenses scandal engulfed Westminster in 2009 and referred the matter to police within months of identifying potential criminal activity.
However, the longstanding principle of parliamentary privilege, which is supposed to protect MPs’ freedom of speech, meant detectives had no access to damning correspondence with the then standards commissioner, John Lyon. In the correspondence, MacShane described how signatures on receipts from the European Policy Institute (EPI) had been faked.
The EPI was controlled by MacShane, and the general manager’s signature was not genuine. One letter dated October 2009 described how he drew funds from the EPI so he could serve on a book-judging panel in Paris.
Police could not prove any wrongdoing without the correspondence, and dropped their inquiry in July 2012 before reopening it in November last year when the letters emerged and the cross-party standards and privileges committee recommended a 12-month suspension from the Commons.
MacShane was charged in May. The offence of false accounting covered 19 “knowingly misleading” receipts that he filed between January 2005 and January 2008. The court heard that he had incurred “genuine expenses” for similar amounts, which he chose to recoup by dishonest false accounting rather than through legitimate claims.
The judge said: “However chaotic your general paperwork was, there was deliberate, oft-repeated and prolonged dishonesty over a period of years, involving a flagrant breach of trust and consequent damage to parliament, with correspondingly reduced confidence in our priceless democratic system and the process by which it is implemented and we are governed.”
Sweeney said he had considered a number of mitigating factors, including MacShane’s guilty plea and the fact that the offences were “not committed out of greed or for personal profit”.
He also recognised that MacShane had suffered “a long period of public humiliation” and carried out the offences “at a time of turmoil” in his personal life. The court heard that MacShane and his wife divorced in 2003, his daughter Clare was killed in an accident in March 2004, his mother died in 2006 and his former partner Carol Barnes – Clare’s mother – died in 2008.
The judge also considered his previous good character and that the money had been paid back. He said his starting point for the offence was a 12-month sentence but he reduced this to six months because of the mitigating factors.
Other politicians prosecuted as a result of the expenses scandal include the former Labour MPs Elliot Morley, Jim Devine, David Chaytor and Eric Illsley. Also prosecuted were the Conservatives Lord Hanningfield and Lord Taylor of Warwick. Sentences have ranged from nine to 18 months’ imprisonment. Another former Labour MP, Margaret Moran, was spared prison and given a supervision order on the grounds of mental-health problems.