UK ex-lawmaker jailed over expense check scandal

David Chaytor previously pleaded guilty to charges of false accounting, acknowledging he had submitted bogus claims for rent of homes, computer services.

london big ben parliament 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
london big ben parliament 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
LONDON  — A former British legislator was jailed Friday over the country's lawmakers' expense check scandal, becoming the first person to be imprisoned following the damaging affair which dented public trust in politics.
The 61-year-old David Chaytor had previously pleaded guilty to three charges of false accounting, acknowledging he had submitted bogus claims for the rent of homes and computer services totaling about 20,000 pounds (US$31,000).
Chaytor's prosecution — and charges filed against five other current and former legislators — follow the 2009 disclosure of previously secret expense files which revealed how politicians had billed the public for items including swank second homes, horse manure and pornographic movies.
A total of 392 current and former legislators were ordered to repay 1.12 million pounds ($1.8 million) following extravagant or inappropriate claims.
Police and prosecutors concluded that a small number of legislators should also face criminal charges over alleged fraud of expense system.
Justice John Saunders told Chaytor that courts needed to make an example of cheating lawmakers to help restore the public's trust in politics.
"The whole expenses scandal has shaken public confidence in the legislature, it has angered the public," Saunders said, sentencing Chaytor at London's Southwark Crown Court.
He said when attempts to defraud taxpayers were uncovered "it is necessary significant penalties should follow, so people realize how important it is for people to be honest in dealing with public funds."
Chaytor had held a House of Commons seat in the northern England town of Bury from 1997 to 2010. He was suspended by the Labour Party in 2009, and stepped down as a lawmaker ahead of a national election last May.
Following the announcement that Chaytor would be jailed, the Labour Party said it had permanently banned him from the organization.
Prosecutors said Chaytor had submitted claims for rent on a London apartment that he and his wife actually owned, and also attempted to charge taxpayers for rent on a house in northern England which belonged to his mother. Another bogus bill was made out for computer support services that the lawmaker had never received.
Peter Wright, prosecuting, told the court that Chaytor's claims "were designed by him to siphon money off from the public purse to which he was not entitled."
Chaytor's lawyer James Sturman told the court that the ex-lawmaker felt "deep and genuine remorse."
"He accepts he has brought shame on himself, he has brought shame on his family and he has brought shame on Parliament," Sturman said.
The former legislator and two other politicians had initially attempted to avoid prosecution, appealing to the Supreme Court to claim that they should be entitled to parliamentary privilege — a type of immunity for lawmakers.
Judges threw out their case and insisted a series of criminal prosecutions over the expense check scandal must go ahead.
House of Commons lawmaker Eric Illsley, two former legislators Elliot Morley and Jim Devine and two House of Lords members — Paul White, known as Lord Hanningfield, and John Taylor, all face trial in the coming months on charges related to their expense claims.