Expenses MP 'fiddled stationery orders'

A former Labour MP accused of fiddling his parliamentary expenses asked a stationery company to confirm he had paid for orders when he never did so, a jury heard today.

Jim Devine allegedly requested that invoices be stamped to say money had been "received with thanks" before the orders were paid for.



The 57-year-old, who was MP for Livingston, is on trial at London's Southwark Crown Court for falsely claiming almost £9,000 from the public purse.



Jennifer McCrea, the retired secretary of Armstrong Printing Limited in Clackmannanshire, said on one occasion Devine said his request was "a matter of urgency".



She said customers often asked for an invoice to be "receipted", as confirmation a payment had been made. This was indicated on the paperwork by the words "received with thanks" being stamped on it.



But she said Devine made his request before any money was paid or the printing job was done.



She told the court about a telephone conversation the former Labour MP, who had an account at the firm, made to her in March 2009.



"He was asking for an invoice for future work," she said.



"He asked for it to be made out for around £2,400. There was no detail for what actually was going to be printed.



"He asked for it to be receipted. If someone asks for a receipted invoice they want acknowledgement that that particular invoice has been paid."



She said she could not process his request, so passed it on to the company director, Billy Lochie.



Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, asked her: "By stamping it and signing it, that assumes that Armstrong Printing received £2,400. And had they?"



She replied: "No they had not."



He asked: "And did they."



To which she responded: "No they did not."



Devine is on trial facing two charges of false accounting.



The first count alleges that, between July 2008 and May 2009, Mr 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, Mr Devine dishonestly claimed £5,505 for stationery from Armstrong Printing using false invoices.



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





Ms McCrea told the court Devine had been a customer for "a number of years" and Armstrong Printing completed jobs for him throughout that time.



The secretary, who retired last June, said some orders were paid for directly by the House of Commons fees office, rather than by Devine himself.



She said it was common practice for invoices to be drawn up for future jobs, and she put down on the paperwork "pre-printed stationery".



Ms McCrea told the jury about the first of the conversations she had on the telephone with Devine when he made such an order. He did not specify any details of the job.



"It's something we did for customers. It wasn't anything unusual."



Asked how much he wanted the invoice made out for, she said: "If my memory serves me right, he said around £2,400."



She went on describe how Devine asked her to write up another invoice, this time for 20,000 pension questionnaires, priced at £3,105.



Again he asked for the invoice to be marked "received with thanks", and again she referred it up to her manager, who completed the request.



She faxed the invoice to Devine because, as he said, "it was a matter of urgency".



Neither of the two jobs was ever completed or paid for.



The combined total of the two orders equals £5,505, the same figure which appears on the second charge Devine faces.



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



Ms McCrea told the court Devine had been a customer for "a number of years" and Armstrong Printing completed jobs for him throughout that time.



The secretary, who retired last June, said some orders were paid for directly by the House of Commons fees office, rather than by Devine himself.



She said it was common practice for invoices to be drawn up for future jobs, and she put down on the paperwork "pre-printed stationery".



Ms McCrea told the jury about the first of the conversations she had on the telephone with Devine when he made such an order. He did not specify any details of the job.



"It's something we did for customers. It wasn't anything unusual."



Asked how much he wanted the invoice made out for, she said: "If my memory serves me right, he said around £2,400."



She went on describe how Devine asked her to write up another invoice, this time for 20,000 pension questionnaires, priced at £3,105.



Again he asked for the invoice to be marked "received with thanks", and again she referred it up to her manager, who completed the request.



She faxed the invoice to Devine because, as he said, "it was a matter of urgency".



Neither of the two jobs was ever completed or paid for.



The combined total of the two orders equals £5,505, the same figure which appears on the second charge Devine faces.







The retired principal of Armstrong Printing, Mr Lochie, was questioned by Devine's defending barrister, Gavin Millar QC.



Mr Lochie said the company did a substantial amount of work for Labour MPs in Scotland, and that he knew a number of them on a personal level. He described Devine as "an acquaintance".



The former production manager said he was aware the MPs had an annual allowance, out of which their printing costs came, but he did not know how much it was.



Asked why he marked the paperwork "Received with thanks" before any money had been handed over, he said Devine assured him the company would get paid.



Mr Millar asked how the figure of £2,400 was reached.



The witness replied: "I assumed the £2,400 was for a newsletter which most MPs put out every year, and Mr Devine put a newsletter out every year, and that's what that £2,400 was for.



"I know that's what it was for. It's the same price as the previous year."



He said Devine made the order and promised he would pay the money.



Trial judge Mr Justice Saunders asked him: "You were doing it on a promise you were going to get it?"



Mr Lochie said: "Yes."



The defending barrister asked: "On what basis were you going to get paid?"



He replied: "Mr Devine was a long-standing customer. There was no reason to doubt that I was going to get paid for the printing."



Asked about the second order - for 20,000 questionnaires - he said he never spoke to Devine, and that his colleague, Ms McCrea, dealt with his request.



Mr Millar put it to Mr Lochie that the secretary told him Devine requested the invoice because he had explained to her that "he wanted funding to come out of his allowance to meet staffing costs".



But Mr Lochie denied the conversation took place.



The barrister said: "You were quite happy to sign those invoices because you knew you weren't going to get paid."



Mr Lochie said that was not true and he just acted "naively".

The trial continues.