Ex-minister Elliot Morley admits biggest fiddle

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The Independent Online

Former environment minister Elliot Morley today admitted being Parliament's biggest expenses cheat.

The ex-Labour MP dishonestly claimed mortgage payments worth £32,000.

Morley is the first ex-minister to face jail over the expenses scandal which rocked Westminster.

He pocketed £16,800 in claims on a phantom mortgage and £15,200 after inflating the amount he was previously paying.

Just days before he was due to go on trial, Morley entered two guilty pleas for false accounting over claims made against his home in Winterton, near Scunthorpe, Lincs, between 2004 and 2007.

Morley, 58, wrongly filled out a total of 40 forms relating to payments for his home.

He claimed thousands of pounds more than any of the other MPs convicted over the scandal.

The prosecution overshadows a political career lasting more than 20 years.

An MP for Scunthorpe since 1987, the former teacher was one of Labour's most prominent voices on agricultural issues and the environment.

He was party spokesman on rural affairs and animal welfare from 1989 until the 1997 election victory, and served under Tony Blair as environment minister from 2003 to 2006.

Campaigners criticised him for not admitting his crimes earlier.

Emma Boon, campaign director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It's a shame that Morley took so long to make an admission of guilt.

"Taxpayers had to suffer the insult not only of him stealing from them, but then lying about it for so long and dragging out an expensive prosecution.

"This change of plea is one more small step towards Parliament regaining public trust."

Jim Devine, the first MP to stand trial in the wake of the expenses scandal, was branded a liar by a judge last month as he was jailed for 16 months for offences totalling £8,385.

Two other former Labour members, David Chaytor and Eric Illsley, have already been jailed after pleading guilty to falsely claiming £22,000 and £14,500 respectively.

Former Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick awaits sentencing after being convicted by a jury in January of falsely claiming more than £11,000 for travel and overnight subsistence.

Morley entered his pleas as it emerged that MPs were paid £3.2 million in expenses for the final two months of last year.

James Sturman QC, for the defence, told Mr Justice Saunders that his client accepted a jail sentence is likely.

After Morley delivered his two guilty pleas, Mr Sturman urged the judge to consider his "lifetime of public service".

But, referring to a jail term, he added: "We know it is not a question of if but how long."

Outside court, Morley said "any comments I might make" will be at the next hearing.