Ex-MP David Chaytor faces jail over false expenses claims

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The Independent Online

A former Labour MP is facing jail after becoming the first politician to have a conviction for making false Parliamentary expenses claims.

David Chaytor pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey today to three charges of false accounting amounting to more than £18,000.

One of the charges related to allowance claims for rent he paid to a woman for a house in Castle Street, Bury, Lancs.

But the woman was his mother, who was in a home and suffering from Alzheimer's.

She was never paid the money and has subsequently died.

Chaytor, 61, of Lumbutts, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, had been MP for Bury North since 1997, when the MPs' expenses scandal broke last year. He was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

He was remanded on bail to be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on January 7.

Chaytor, a former lecturer who is married and has three children, faces up to seven years in jail but his guilty pleas mean the judge can reduce his sentence by a third.

Chaytor had pleaded not guilty to the charges in May - but changed his pleas today. He had been due to stand trial on Monday.

The dramatic change came as legal moves to have the case dismissed came to an unsuccessful end.

He had claimed he should not be prosecuted because of Parliamentary privilege, but this was rejected by the Supreme Court.

Chaytor stood in the dock of Court 11 with his hands crossed and his head tilted as he answered "guilty" to each count.

Chaytor admitted false accounting involving a total of £18,350 which he charged on his expenses.

He claimed £12,925 between November 2005 and September 2006 for renting a flat in Regency Street, near Westminster, which it turned out he owned.

A fake tenancy agreement said he was paying £1,175 a month rent.

He also falsely claimed between September 2007 and January 2008, some £5,425 for renting his mother's house at £775 a month.

He admitted he was not paying his mother and would not have been allowed to claim for leasing a property from a family member.

A third charge related to falsely charging £1,950 for IT support services in May 2006. That money was never paid to him.

The charge said that he supplied two invoices from a man named Paul France "when in fact the services had not been provided or charged for".

His QC James Sturman told the judge, Mr Justice Saunders: "There are many misconceptions about the case which we will wish to put right on January 7.

"Obviously he accepts this is a serious matter. There is no loss to the public purse. Any sums claimed have been, or will be, repaid."

Mr Sturman said £13,000 had already been paid.

He asked for a pre-sentence report and said he expected to call character witnesses during the sentencing hearing.

He said there had so far been "a total failure to reflect that his case reflects appropriate claims gone about in the wrong way".

Mr Sturman said: "There was some entitlement in his case but he did it in such a way which he concedes by his plea of guilty."

The judge allowed reporting of the case saying: "This is a matter of intense public interest."

He added that the case was "entirely separate" to other impending trials involving parliamentary expenses.

Chaytor left court without commenting. He was mobbed by photographers as he got into a taxi with his legal team.

Later, Simon Clements, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "David Chaytor has admitted his dishonesty and will now face the consequences of his actions.

"No-one, no matter what their position, should be allowed to take money they are not entitled to.

"By his actions David Chaytor has abused the trust placed in him by the public."

Chaytor was also condemned by his former constituents in Bury.

Standing beside the monument of Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing, who was born in the town, Brian Birkett, 38, an out-of-work builder, said: "He's gone from being quite well thought of to nothing more than a criminal."

Hundreds of MPs were ordered to repay a total of £1.12 million in the wake of the expenses scandal.

Others due to face separate trials involving their expenses are former Scunthorpe Labour MP Elliot Morley, former Labour MP for Livingston Jim Devine, former Barnsley Central Labour MP Eric Illsley, Tory peer Lord Hanningfield and Lord Taylor of Warwick, a former Tory peer.