Ex-MP: Worker paid herself a bonus

A former MP accused of fiddling his expenses told a court today that a secretary paid herself more than £5,000 from his staffing allowance without his knowledge.

Jim Devine, 57, who held a seat in the House of Commons for Livingston in Scotland, is on trial at Southwark Crown Court for falsely claiming almost £9,000 from the public purse.

The former Labour backbencher said Marion Kinley, whom he took on in March 2006 as his office manager, was authorised to speak to the fees office on his behalf.

Devine told the court while giving evidence he started to receive inquiries from journalists with questions regarding his expenses, so he investigated with the fees office.

He gave an example of one the questions he was asked.

"Why did I have the best paid office manager in the House of Commons?" he said.

He added: "They seemed to have specific information about claims that I had been making."

The former MP said he paid her a salary of £35,000 as his office manager, based in his Livingston constituency.

Devine said he became concerned somebody was leaking information about his expenses, so he contacted the fees office to tell them he wanted to take control of his claims.

He told the court he even requested a password be put on his account.

The former MP said he uncovered Ms Kinley paid herself £1,000 in overtime, and £4,300 as a bonus.

He said the bonus payment was made in September 2007, but they were supposed to be paid at the end of the financial year - in March.

Devine said he had authorised her to call the fees office, and he said: "She would speak to the fees office if there was a problem."

He described events after he made his investigations: "She realised I had been in the fees office. She went home at about 11 o'clock that morning.

"She claimed sickness and went off work for about six months."

Devine said he continued to pay Ms Kinley's salary while she was off sick.

He said eventually a letter was drafted by Terry Bird, the former director of operations of resources at the House of Commons, to suspend her. Ms Kinley left in March 2008.

Devine is on trial facing two charges of false accounting.

The first count alleges that, between July 2008 and May 2009, Devine dishonestly claimed £3,240 for cleaning services from Tom O'Donnell Hygiene and Cleaning Services.

The second count alleges that between March 2009 and April 2009, Devine dishonestly claimed £5,505 for stationery from Armstrong Printing using false invoices.

Devine, of West Main Street, Bathgate, West Lothian, denies both charges.

Devine told the court how the landlord of a local pub near his flat in Elephant and Castle, near to the Houses of Parliament in London, was a "godsend" when he put him in touch with a Polish cleaner.

He moved into the property after he was elected into Parliament and became a local at the Prince of Wales, where Tom O'Donnell is the publican.

A cleaner called Larissa went to his flat once or twice a month to clean, do the washing up and make the beds, and let herself in with a set of keys Devine left at the local pub.

He explained how he paid her when she worked between 2006 and 2008: "I would give her £40 cash in hand. It was on an ad hoc basis."

The former MP said he did not claim back the money he had paid her for the first couple of years, because he had not realised he was able to.

"It wasn't until 2008 I found out I could actually claim for it," he said.

"It was £80 a month and I had never claimed it."

He said he went in to the fees office to find out if he could get reimbursed for previous years' expenses.

It was explained to him, he said: "What you can do is claim on this year. But you've got to be careful that you don't go over budget."

He said the total would have come to between £1,000 and £2,000, but he decided not to claim the full amount, because he did not want to reach his limit.

Devine said he came to a figure of £1,000 with Mr O'Donnell, and they agreed the invoices would divide into three invoices of £540, £180 and £180.

He said he reached those amounts by speaking to other MPs about what they were paying for cleaning, and that he sought advice from the fees office.

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