Three MPs charged with false accounting following the Westminster expenses scandal are vowing robust defences – saying their cases should be dealt with by Commons authorities rather than the police.
A Conservative peer also charged over claims for House of Lords allowances has also dismissed the accusation and vowed to “vigorously” defend himself.
The MPs – Elliot Morley of Scunthorpe, David Chaytor of Bury North and Livingston’s Jim Devine – and Lord Hanningfield became the first politicians to be charged, following last year’s explosive parliamentary expenses revelations.
They will appear at City of Westminster Magistrates Court – a few hundred yards from Parliament – on March 11, less than a month before the expected start of the general election campaign. If found guilty, they could face jail sentences of up to seven years.
In a joint statement, the three Labour MPs – who have been barred from standing as Labour election candidates – said: “We totally refute any charges that we have committed an offence and we will defend our position robustly.”
They said they believed their cases should have been dealt with by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, adding: “We are confident of our position and have been advised by eminent QCs.”
There is speculation that they will claim their expenses are covered by parliamentary privilege, and therefore is not subject to court scrutiny.
Lord Hanningfield said he was “extremely disappointed” to be charged and insisted all his expenses claims were made in good faith.
Mr Devine said he was “astonished and devastated” to be charged, and could easily explain the claims under question. Other MPs had been required to repay larger sums as a result of Sir Thomas Legg’s audit, which demanded a total of £1.12 million to be repaid by more than 300 MPs and former MPs.
Insufficient evidence had been found to press charges against former Labour chairman Lord Clarke of Hampstead. A further case – believed to involve Labour peer Baroness Uddin – is still under consideration.
Source: Press Association